Saturday, November 27, 2010

How's Your Sermon Coming?

What does it really mean to live by faith? According to the passage of scripture in Hebrews chapter 11 (often referred to as the "Hall of Faith") it involves acting on what you believe in your heart to be true.

More than simple "belief", Biblical faith is more about action than ideas.

"By faith Abel offered..." (v.4)

"By faith Noah..built an ark.." (v.7)

"By faith Abraham..obeyed and went.." (v.8)

"By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau.." (v.20)

"By faith Jacob...blessed each of Joseph's sons.."(v.21)

"By faith Joseph...spoke about the exodus...and gave instructions about his bones.."(v.22)

"By faith Moses..refused to be known as the son of Pharoah's daughter...chose to be mistreated along with the people of God.." (v.24)

The pattern seems to be that these people had faith and then they did something about it. Faith is doing something to demonstrate what you believe. It is not simply belief itself.

"You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did." (James 2:20-22)

What we do about what we believe is more important than what we believe. To believe something and to do nothing about it is equal to unbelief.

"You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." (James 2:24)

Our lives are a living testimony of what we actually believe. If what we say we believe and our actions don't line up, we call that hypocrisy. Some call it Christianity. This shouldn't be the case.

I recently read through the epistles of Titus, Philemon, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians and 1 and 2 Timothy. One thing that struck me out of all of these letters from Paul was the importance of our character as followers of Jesus. Doing good and living lives of love and service to others wasn't an evangelism strategy, it was a way of life. Because they had been radically transformed by the living, resurrected Christ, they were changed into people who extravagantly loved and served and gave and shared all that they had with those around them.

Every one of us who names the name of Christ is living out a daily sermon to the world around us. We are pouring forth a message of the love of Christ to those who have yet to discover such love - or we're denying that such love is real by our attitudes and lack of concern for others.

"You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our service, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor 3:3)

Each of us a living, breathing sermon testifying daily to the amazing love of Jesus our Lord.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


The disciples of Jesus were very concerned with leadership. Early on they spent a great deal of their time discussing issues of hierarchy with one another. For example:

"An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest." (Luke 9:46)

Even at the Lord's Supper, when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him, and that he would suffer in order to establish a new covenant between God and man, the disciples took a break from discussing which of them might betray Jesus in this way in order to discuss the very important topic of leadership:

"A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest." (Luke 22:24)

Earlier on in Jesus' ministry the mother of James and John came to him to engage in a dialog about leadership, saying:

"Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom." (Matthew 20:21)

Of course, James and John themselves were also quite eager to move up in the hierarchy of the Kingdom and so they also came to Jesus to talk about leadership issues when they said:

"Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." (Mark 10:37)

Even when they traveled from town to town, the disciples loved to talk about which of them was the greatest of all.

"They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, [Jesus] asked them, 'What were you arguing about on the road?' But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest." (Mark 9:33-34)

Yes, the disciples were extremely fixated on the topic of leadership and hierarchy. But Jesus wasn't. In fact, in every single one of these cases, Jesus took the time to stress to the Disciples that, in the Kingdom of God, leadership didn't have anything to do with being top dog. In fact, if they wanted to be great in the Kingdom of God, they would have to get used to washing feet, being everyone's servant and acting like simple children.

In the Kingdom of God, the only boss is Jesus. He is still the head of His Church and no one else. All the rest of us are brothers and sisters in His Family.

Jesus reminds all of us that the least among us is the greatest of all.(Luke 9:48)
He models a servant style of leadership for all of us to follow (John 13:4-17)
He boldly declares that, unless we can become humble like little children, we will never enter the Kingdom of God.(Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17; Matthew 18:3-4)

"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:5-8)

Jesus pointed to both Jewish (Religious) and Roman (Political) hierarchies and made a point to contrast those systems with his own model. He sternly warned his disciples not to “lord it over” one another as the Gentile rulers did.(Mark 10:42-45) He also commanded them not to follow the example of the Jewish leaders who loved the praise of men and built their own kingdoms to glorify themselves. (Matt 23:8-12).

Eventually, the disciples got it. They abandoned their pursuits of hierarchy and they embraced the loving, servant leadership posture that Jesus so beautifully modelled for them.

We see this when Peter appealed to the Church as a fellow laborer in Christ and referred to himself as a "fellow elder" rather than as an Apostle:

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” – 1 Peter 5:1-4

Paul echoed this also, saying:

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.” – 2 Cor.1:24

People love leaders. We love leadership. We flock to those with the greatest talent and ability. But this is exactly what Paul warns the Church about when he rebukes them for identifying themselves as followers of Appollos, or Peter, or even of himself. (see 1 Corinthians 1:11-13)

Instead, Paul warns all of them not to become disciples of any other man, or leader, but to fully submit to Christ alone as Lord and Savior and Teacher.

When Paul was preparing to return to Jerusalem he wrote a letter of farewell to many of the churches he had helped to plant and nourish. As he encouraged them he took the opportunity to remind them of something that had been burning in his heart for three years. It was something that, in his own words, he “never stopped warning each of (them), night and day with tears.” – (Acts 20:25-31)

What do you suppose it was that concerned Paul so much? What could bring him to tears like this? What could compel him to constantly remind and warn those first Christians “night and day”?

Was it false doctrine in the church? Was it the coming persecution? No, it was something far more devasting to the Body. The rise of teachers and leaders who would draw disciples after themselves rather than pointing them directly to Christ.

“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” – Acts 20:25-31

What troubled Paul most of all was the knowledge that, after he was gone, men would rise up “to draw away disciples after themselves”. Paul was broken-hearted to think of the Body submitting to the authority of men rather than to the authority of Christ.

Think about this. Paul is mainly concerned that men will rise up from within the Body itself and, in his absence, set themselves up as leaders and draw disciples to themselves.

Why would this concern Paul so much? Why would it cause him such anxiety and emotional turmoil? Perhaps because Jesus made the issue of leadership within His Body very clear: It was designed to be a family, an organism and a community, not a hierarchy.

In the Church, our only Head and Leader is Jesus.

"Christ is the head of the body, the church; Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,that in everything Christ might be preeminent." (Colossians 1:18)

"And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (Ephesians 1:22-23)


Monday, November 15, 2010

National Day of Prayer and Fasting for Immigration Reform

On Tues. Nov. 16th I will be participating in a National Day of Prayer and Fasting for Immigration Reform.

You're invited to join with others locally who are praying and fasting for the immigrants among us. If you want to take part, please consider attending the prayer and worship service at RockHARBOR that same evening to break the fast.

National Day of Prayer and Fasting for Immigration Reform
RockHarbor Church
6:30pm - 8:30pm

Find out more

"Do not mistreat the alien or oppress him, for you were once aliens in
Egypt". (Exodus 22:21)

"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position." (Romans 12:16)

Saturday, November 13, 2010


On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV entered the West Nickel Mines School house holding a loaded gun. He proceeded to shoot ten girls, between the ages of 6 and 13 years old, and killed five of them. Eventually he turned the gun on himself and took his own life.

While stories like this are all-too-common in our world today, the reaction of the community was anything but.

This shooting had taken place in the Amish country of Bart Township in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The families who lost their daughters were filled with grief over the loss of their children, but they were also filled with the love of Christ. This is why, instead of responding out of their despair, they followed the Prince of Peace and found the faith to act out the loving example of Jesus.

Just one week after the shooting, the same families who lost their daughters in this senseless and selfish act visited Marie Roberts, the wife of the man who had pulled the trigger and taken his own life. They boldly, and sincerely, offered their complete forgiveness to her. They invited her to attend the funeral services for their slain daughters. They shared all relief funds sent to them with Mrs. Roberts and her own children who had lost their father that same day. They even attended the funeral of Charles Roberts and offered their loving support to his widow and his children.

This is love. This is true forgiveness and Christian compassion.

Out of hate, love can conquer. Out of despair, hope can rise. Out of tragedy, forgiveness can overcome.

The message of the Gospel is subversive. It goes against the grain. It makes a real, dramatic, powerful difference at just the right time, and when no one could possibly even expect it.

This is what we are called to, as followers of Christ. We are called to love extravagantly and to forgive inexplicably, and to demonstrate to the world that Jesus is alive inside of us.

Let the Kingdom come.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Re-Blog: What God Allows

The other day as I was talking with a friend the question came up, "Why does God allow these things to happen?"

It doesn't really matter what the specific context of our conversation was. You and I can fill in the blanks here and ask why God allows suffering, why God allows children to be abused, why God allows spiritual leaders to twist the Gospel, why God allows Christians to shoot abortion doctors on Sunday morning in Church?

It seems to me that if you made a list of the top 10 things God does not allow you'd have a hard time coming up with even one thing.

"How can God allow...?"

When we ask this question are we yearning for God to take more control over our reality? Are we hoping for the day when the Kingdom fully breaks into this world and His perfect will is always, fully accomplished?

Surely it's not that we expect God to prevent car crashes or divert bullets or ensure that no one anywhere is ever harmed or killed or endures suffering? Seriously? Is this the world we live in? Is this our expectation?

But, maybe the answer is "Yes." Maybe we do, in our heart of hearts, long for God to reach down and protect every life and heal every hurt and prevent every tragedy. And if so, then what we're really desperate for is the breaking in of the Kingdom of God into this world we live in now. This is exactly what Jesus wanted to see when he came and announced "the Kingdom of God is at hand."

The truth is that our world is full of suffering and pain. This is our reality. However, there is still hope for us to experience a reality where God's rule and reign is tangible. "The Kingdom of God," Jesus said, "is within you". It begins with our individual hearts and our actual lives. We must invite Jesus to be the King of our life first. We must surrender our rule and reign for His rule and reign. We must humble ourselves and trust Him with all that we have.

Now and again we do experience the breaking in of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes God does intervene and He miraculously heals someone. Sometimes God brings us through the car crash unscathed. Sometimes God reaches into this reality and corrects what is wrong and makes it right. I'm very thankful that in my life God has intervened on several occasions. I have personally seen and experienced His healing. I have experienced His Grace and His Mercy.

But sometimes, God does not intervene. In fact, God's intervention is the exception, not the rule. God often allows anything, and everything, to happen. He works through the pain, the tragedy, the disappointment, the tears and the wreckage to bring redemption, salvation, clarity, peace and reconciliation.

We recently said goodbye to a dear sister in Christ who struggled and suffered with brain cancer. God did not heal her of this, but He did work through her suffering to bring reconciliation to her son and daugther and brother and sister. Healing did take place, but not in the way we expected.

For now we live in a fallen world. God is still in control, but more often than not God allows things to happen and He works through the wreckage.

We are co-workers with God in this effort. He allows us the honor of extending grace to the sinner, comfort to the afflicted, and hope to the hopeless.

In fact, Jesus so identifies with the poor, the broken, the imprisoned, and the outcast that he says "whatever you have done to one of the least of these you have done it to me."

So, the next time we are tempted to ask, "How can God allow...?" we have to realize that God is permissive, but He is not passive. He takes what is intended for evil and turns it to good. He is in the business of turning darkness into light, and He calls us to the same ministry of reconciliation.

Maybe, when it comes to suffering and injustice we should ask ourselves, "How can we allow..?"

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." - Jesus, (Matthew 16:19)

"We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you." - 2 Cor 4:10-12

"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us." - 2 Cor 5:20


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Help Me With My New Book - [Subversive Interviews]

I'm nearly finished putting together my collection of interviews with people like Dallas Willard, Todd Hunter, Frank Viola, Jim Wallis, Matt Redman, Neil Cole, Walter Kirn, and many others.

If you've got a few minutes, please take this quick survey and help me out.

Click here to take survey


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Gospel of Life and Death

I heard a quote the other day from my friend Jackie Pullinger. She said, "The Gospel is always life for the hearer and death for the giver. It was death for Jesus to bring us the Gospel, but it was life to us who received it. If this is how it was for Jesus, why do we think it will be any different for us? For us to bring the Gospel it will mean our death, but for those who receive the Gospel, they will have life."

This phrase has rocked me since the day I first heard it. Mainly because it makes me realize that lately I’ve not been experiencing much death. If anything, I am more alive now than ever before. By this I mean that my main thought these days is largely preoccupied with my own comfort and entertainment rather than focused on serving others, giving up my rights or suffering for the Gospel of Christ.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” – (Philippians 1:29)

I do actually believe that the New Testament teaches – as Jackie suggests in her quote – that suffering is part of the Gospel. Jesus was quite clear that anyone who made up their mind to follow him must begin by taking up their cross (the instrument of their death) and die to themselves daily. In fact, there is no other way to follow Jesus than this way. The Way of the Cross is the only path to discipleship with Christ.

This means that my death is part of the equation, and according to Jesus the death must be a daily practice:

“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." – (Luke 9:23-26)

My confession is that lately I have been eager to advance the Kingdom of God and to pursue Jesus passionately, but I’ve sort of misplaced my cross.

About the same time as I heard this quote from Jackie Pullinger, I also watched a documentary on DVD about missionary Heidi Baker who gave up everything to rescue orphans in war-torn Mozambique several years ago. She and her husband left Orange County (where I now live) and travelled to a foreign land in response to God’s calling on their life to serve the poor and bring the Gospel to the least and the lost.

What struck me as I watched this family surrender everything was this, “There’s a difference between being willing to surrender all to Christ and actually surrendering all to follow Jesus.”

Most of my journey with Jesus so far has been marked by a “willingness” to give up everything for Christ, but I have stopped short of “actually” surrendering everything to Jesus. Granted, I have not heard God’s call to abandon everything and travel to a foreign nation to minister to orphans. My calling, so far, seems to be centered here in Orange County. My ministry has been to love the poor here in the OC where over 40,000 homeless live in motels with their children, or in their car. Still, my ministry lately hasn’t involved very much dying if I’m honest.

In my spiritual life there should always be a constant exchange of energy, like an internal nuclear reactor inside of me. On one end it is burning up my flesh and bringing death to my flesh, but at the same time it is converting that death into the life of Christ within me. The exchange in me is constant death for eternal life. And what’s more, the catalyst of this nuclear reaction is the resurrection power of Christ at work within me.

Paul says it this way:

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” – (Philippians 3:10-11)

As I submit to the command of Jesus to carry my cross, and as I allow Him to crucify my flesh daily, I experience the death that comes from the Gospel. At the same time, I also experience the life of the Gospel within me as Jesus is formed in me. The power of His resurrection is what is released in me when my flesh is crucified.

The quote from Jackie I referenced talks about this exchange in a slightly different way. She speaks of the death we experience as we bring the Gospel to others, suggesting that we must suffer and die to ourselves in order to proclaim – or more accurately to demonstrate – the Gospel of the Kingdom. Those who receive the Gospel experience the new life in Christ, however, once they are disciples themselves, they will also begin to experience this same death of the flesh as they repeat the process in their own spiritual obedience.

My problem is figuring out how to follow Jesus in so radical a way when I live in the relative comfort, freedom and excess of America, and Orange County, California.

The New Testament writers had a lot to say about suffering and how it relates to our identity in Christ and to the mission of the Church:

"We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you." – (2 Cor 4:10-12)

“Therefore we do not lose, though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” - (1 Pet. 4:12-13)

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.” – (Romans 5:3)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” – (Romans 8:18)

“Woe to you who are comfortable” – (Amos 6:1)

The more I ponder these things, the more I realize that I have failed to resist the constant pull of my flesh away from suffering and towards pleasure and comfort. Where can I die to myself? How can I embrace the death of my flesh and serve others more sacrificially? For me to have more of Christ, I need to have less of me. This can only happen if I allow the Great Physician to cut away the dead flesh of my heart and breathe life into me.

My prayer lately has been simply this: Please Jesus come live and breathe in me today. Help me to embrace the death that the Gospel brings to my flesh so that I can experience the life of Christ that springs up from within by your Spirit.