CHARGE #1: Fight for your First Church

I preached the introduction to 1st Timothy yesterday.  Written to a young pastor, this letter holds a lot of meaning for me, as it does for anyone who pastors.  Unfortunately, the “Pastoral letters” to Timothy and Titus can be a tough sell to those who don’t consider themselves “Professional Christians”.   The letters lend themselves easily to those who wish to use them as a tool to examine whether a, our, or THE church is healthy or sick.   In truth, this is what they are intended for and ALL churches should regularly visit these three letters for encouragement, correction, and guidance.

I believe that the letters can also be used to pastor our First Church–our home.   Just like Ephesus, false truths, demonic “wisdom”, and sinful behavior rises up from within.  If we don’t fight, fight for the wrong things, or allow others to fight in our stead, our first churches will become sick and die.

We are not born fighters.  Timothy wasn’t thrust into a den of wolves without being pastored FIRST by his family.  In 2Timothy 1.5, Paul writes, I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. Sounds like Mom and Grandma took their charge seriously.  And in order to fight, they equipped Timothy with the best armor and weapons available: 2Timothy 3.14-16 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ.

Practically speaking, we’re all pastors  shepherding someone. We preach sermons through our actions and our inaction. We preach through our words and our silences. We preach through the values we live not the ones we speak. We teach through what we worship and how we sacrifice.  We preach through our joys and our sufferings. Just as Paul charged Timothy to Protect, Lead, Teach, and Love, so men, women, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and even great-grandparents are charged to defend their first churches, until they have been trained to defend themselves.

Not all of us got to received “good preaching” in our first church, some of us heard and saw some really bad sermons from those we thought loved us, but some of us had some awesome pastor-moms or grandmas.  For whatever reason, many of us have stopped fighting (or never started) and now, we feel much like Timothy probably did–out of his league–inexperience, ill-equipped, and overwhelmed.  The truth is, God has chosen YOU to fight in your FIRST CHURCH.  There are some fights that ONLY you can fight as Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Husband, Wife, and it’s never too late to start fighting.


Obscure Bible Verses: Judges 8.16

And he took the elders of the city, and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them taught the men of Succoth a lesson. – Judges 8.16

This little gem is from the book of Judges.  The book of judges is the story of what happens when there is no godly leadership.  It is the time between the death of Joshua and the first King of Israel, Saul.  Israel would go through the same cycle every couple of years: Israel sins and worship false gods; the Lord gets angry; the Lord delivers them into the hands of an enemy; Israel cries; the Lord raises of a deliverer to rescue them…rinse and repeat.

Chapter 6-8 is about Gideon.  I love Gideon because he’s a manly man.  He wasn’t at first, of course.  In fact, when God called him to go and defeat the enemy of the week, Midian, he complains that he’s the weakest man from the weakest house in the weakest tribe.  The greatest of God’s men are humble (Mark 9.35). Gideon accepts God’s call and proceeds to tear down the city idols in the middle of the night and build an altar to God on top of the rubble.  He quickly learns that God’s men have to be willing to do the right thing, even if it will piss others off. Finally, God tells Gideon to go an attack the Midianites.  God doesn’t want Gideon to be tempted to boast in his size, power, or experience.  So, after pruning down his army of 32,000 to 300, God deems him ready to defeat Midian.  God’s men depend on God ‘s ways, not men’s strategy, to do what appears impossible.

This OBSCURE VERSE comes AFTER the defeat when he is chasing after two Kings who got away. On his way he travels by the city of Succoth and asks them to feed his army as he pursues their common enemy.  Unfortunately, their city is full of a bunch of girly wieners concerned about their own stuff and not manly warriors with a heart for the Kingdom of God.  They mockingly refuse to support their battling brothers.  In response, Gideon tells them, in no uncertain terms that, after he has whooped up on the enemy, he is coming back to open up a can on them.

He does, as promised, defeat the Kings.  In fact, he kills the kings brutally for the brutality they showed the Israel.  And, as promised, he does return to the city his brothers at Succoth–whom he just saved.  And, as promised, he gathers some thorny brier bushes and, as promised, teaches “the men a lesson.”    We see that, God’s men not only make good on their promises and fight God’s enemies, occasionally, they also need to man up and kick their sinful brother’s arse love.

Jesus’ Cup Check

I have always enjoyed the older translations of Ephesians 6.14 concerning the armor of God.  Usually, the text says something like “GIRD YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH.”  Such a translation always required greater explanation from the youth pastor because few understand “girding”  though we all have a sense of what “loins” are.   With or without explanation, I always imagined getting ready for the spiritual battle like Rambo: I’d put my headband on, lace up my military boots tight, fasten my three foot knife to my side, put on my Holy Jockstrap, and charge out to the fight the demons!

I’ve found it helpful to make sure I have my “cup of truth” on before Jesus himself has to give me a quick check.  When I don’t, and He does, it hurts.   All of us need a cup check from Jesus periodically, to make sure that we are being led by the truth of God and not the ‘truth’ of the evil one.  We/I have to ask WHY we are doing what we are doing?  What is our true hope and motivation for our work and play?  1Corinthians 10.31 says that whether we eat or drink, we are to do all to the glory of God.  That implies that there is a way NOT to glorify God in all that I do…even the basics.  I believe that, when the glory of God is your motivation, hope, and purpose, you may in fact approach whatever you do differently–in a way that is self-denying and God magnifying.  In other words, making much of God is worth more than making much of yourself:

Am I working to for glory of God?
Am I loving my spouse for the glory of God?
Am I parenting for the glory of God?
Am I using my gifts for the glory of God?
Am I playing music to for the glory of God?
Am I writing this book, letter, text, email for the glory of God?
Am I encouraging, rebuking or talking to this person for the glory of God?
Am I managing of my time, money, and resources for the glory of God?
Am I serving my family, friends, and church for the glory of God?
Am I suffering for the glory of God?

Obviously, we could ask this question of a lot more things…and we probably should.  It is clear that people can find some level of “success” apart from doing it for the glory of God.  But, after studying Habakkuk, it is even more clear  any form of building apart from faith will never have lasting substance AND, more importantly, will not please God. It may grow, it may “succeed”, but it will in the end be a conduit for the glory of God OR be crushed by it.  Major cup check.

Acts 29 Coffee -Christian Chronic

We are developing a partnership with a new organization called Acts 29 coffee. In an effort to find ways to redeem the money we already spent, now you can help church planting as you sip on your “Christian Chronic”.  Instead of purchasing coffee from wherever you already do, consider investing with Acts 29 Coffee and have it delivered to your door. For every $10 bag of coffee you guy, 50% of the proceeds go back to church planting in the Northwest Region where we serve. The potential fund-raising is incredible.  More information will be coming soon and we’ll have some samples available at our church soon.

But what does it taste like?  We’ve sampled a couple different ones, Sunday Blend and Redemption Roast.  They are both excellent.  As Seattle natives, we are very particular, believing that drinking bad coffee may actually be as sinful as drinking light beer.  Well…maybe not that sinful.  In short, you won’t be disappointed.

Obscure Bible Verses: Deuteronomy 25.11-12

Deuteronomy 25.11-12 When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand.  Your eye shall have no pity.

In reading the over 600 laws in the Old Testament, one will come across some gems like this.   You have to wonder why God would have made such a law.  I’m sure that, in an effort to spiritualize something that is just stinking hilarious, theologians have concocted just as many creative interpretations as they have for Zipporah and the bloody foreskin (Ex 4.25).  One thing that always makes me laugh is knowing that God saw something like this coming and made a law to prevent it.

There must be something for us to learn from this obscure passage, so here is my two cents worth.  First of all, I’m not sure who is more embarrassed in this scenario–the man who gets a cup check from this guys bride or the husband of the bride.  It’s like walking in on a guy in a bathroom stall going #2 without a door–who is more uncomfortable?

On the other hand, there is something to learn here about women “rescuing” their men.  There are actually two problems.  One, a manly man shouldn’t need rescuing from his bride.  Maybe he shouldn’t have been in a fight in the first place.  Regardless, if you’re  man and you pick a fight, you better be able to finish it.  Obviously, I am speaking figuratively but the same goes for literal fights as well.  Fists, words, or whatever, a man can defend or attack with.   The more common problem I see is women who wrongly think they need to defend their man.  Like a mama bear defending her cubs, if her man is in a confrontation, she suddenly takes it upon herself to “rescue him”–even if he didn’t ask her to (and hopefully he didn’t).  Of course, a lot of time, he is more comfortable with his jewels riding around in her purse anyway so maybe he stopped fighting a long time ago.

She defends him and often times, his sinfulness.  Instead of praying, encouraging, or otherwise gently rebuking him in his sin, she justifies it to everyone.  She speaks for him everywhere all the time–and he lets her.   She speaks in public; when together she serves as his interpreter in conversation; and in cyberspace, she acts as his voice through texting, facebook, and email.  Privately she makes all the decision.  Instead of allowing him to take responsibility, she  mothers him.

Now of course, the root cause is that man failing to lead–this is sin that needs to be confessed and repented of.  It does not justify her behavior, only explains why it is happening.  The man has created a void by abdicating his leadership position.  Men fail to speak.  They fail to fight when they are supposed to and defend when they should.  They act like another kid to be parented, rather than the loving pastor of the home to be respected and followed.

And when men fail to lead, invariably, women end up crushing other men’s testicles, and their brides struggle to balance their two God-given roles because they now only have one hand.

The “unconditional/conditional” Love of Jesus

Speaking about love as “conditional” won’t win you a lot of fans.  Seeing as you and I are the only ones that read this blog, I’m not too concerned.  I realize that if a third person reads this blog, I’ll be psycho-analyzed to the hilt as people ponder why I would write something like this…it must be a “Daddy Wounds” or, at the very least, a  jacked up view of Jesus from a pastor who, three years ago, taught English to high schoolers.

Growing up, my parents always told me that they would, “love me no matter what.”  I believed them, still do.  In retrospect, however, I remember that they “loved” me with that damn wooden spoon a lot (My Dad just used his hand because it was about as thick as a 2X4).  I don’t remember feeling the “love” when mom gave me THE LOOK from across the table after “letting one go” at dinner table–don’t pretend like you never did (do?).  I remember the regular employ of the “firm voice” , as opposed to her “unconditional love tone” , especially when my room smelled of a small dead woodland creature because I had 10 old cereal bowls laying around and hadn’t changed my sheets in 9 months.  And Dad wasn’t genuinely appreciative when I got disciplined by the school for making small darts out of pins, erasers and tape…and throwing them at people.  I wish they would have just loved me for who I was? Why did they want me to change…this is the way God made me, smell and all.   Sin is a blinding thing isn’t it?

When I got married 15 years ago, the phrase “unconditional love” was fleshed out in our marriage vows as, in summary, loving you as long as you are breathing–sick, rich, unfaithful…whatever.  Of course, it takes about 48 hours to realize that oaths are easy to speak, but living  them out are difficult. In my 15 amazing years of marriage, I have learned about unconditional love as my bride has seen my sin and not rejected me, and I hers.  Before marriage, I thought that unconditional love just happened, more of a feeling that comes with a certificate, like a bonus!  Quite honestly, I don’t “feel” in love all the time and I doubt my bride can say she has had warm fuzzies about me every day for the last 15 years.  She has seen my dirt, weaknesses, and failures, and I hers.   I have hurt her and she has hurt me.  And though her love as never failed, she loves me too much to let me remain that way, and I her.  So, for the last 15 years, we constantly hope, encourage, pray, and even rebuke one another SO THAT we might pursue Jesus and not run after my sin. She loves me, and I her, unconditionally, so much so, we hopes our conditions change and we look more and more like Jesus.

Not everyone would call that “unconditional love.”  They will argue that one should accept the person as they are and not expect them to change–at least not tell them they should–because that is conditional love, that’s just mean.  OR, they’ll accept that you’re “trying” to be loving, but that the hope you speak to them aren’t necessarily things to be hoped for.

I have learned much about the “unconditional/conditional” love that I believe Jesus exercises with me, his son, through my own children.  I have three kids, two boys and a princess.  We hope to have more…like 7 more (My wife won’t read this).  It is hard to imagine life before my children, they bring incredible amounts of joy and pain to my life.   love my children.  I love them though they sin against their Lord.  I love them even if they sin against me, their mom, their sister, and others.  I love those little sinners unconditionally. BUT, I also love my children so much that I desire for them to run from their sin and pursue Jesus. Yes, ultimately I don’t have decisive control over whether they do this or not, but that does not allow me to abdicate my God-given responsibility to parent my children, to gently (but firmly) speak truth to them, and to discipline them at times actively.  I love them unconditionally, I will not ever reject them; but I will ALWAYS participate in their journey sanctification.

Isn’t this how Jesus loves us?  Romans 5.8 tells us that Jesus loves us while we are sinners–in other words, he loves us before we are clean.   Jesus justifies us by His grace, and changes our position with God.  But he doesn’t leave.  He continues to work as a mediator to transform our condition using the same grace.  According to Titus 2:11 God’s grace trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.  Jesus loves us so much, he refuses to leave us in our sin–he trains us and even disciplines us BECAUSE he loves us (Hebrews 21.6).  I understand that some will dismiss any kind of ‘love’ like this that comes through a man (or woman) and not the Lord.I believe that this sanctifying work of the Spirit who works through GOD’S WORD IN the unconditionally loving words of our husbands, brides, friends, pastors, even strangers at times, who desperately for a change in condition.

Church Planting Lesson #17: One moment of grace will wipe out 100+ critics, complaints, and concerns

LESSON #17:  One moment of grace will wipe out 100+ critics, complaints, and concerns…

Last night, the men of Damascus Road gathered for some good Bible and some good brew.  Every other Tuesday, men gather to delve into Systematic Theology–an organized study of our God.   For our last gathering, we discussed the providence of God and, specifically, His relationship to evil.  We examined some disturbing passages that forced us to ask some hard questions about the “evil” that comes into our lives.  At one point I asked if God could cause, give, permit, allow, or ordain us to have a terminal illness.

As I asked this question, I knew I was sitting next to a good friend (will call him Bob) who came to our church with his lovely bride (will call her Betty) about a year and a half ago.  In that time, they have grown in their faith and in their relationships with our community .  On Monday, Betty was diagnosed with bone cancer.  One of our pastors talked with Bob on the day they found out.  They were devastated.  We offered to come pray with them, to cry with them, to just be with them.  They wanted to be alone.

I didn’t expect Bob to show up at a Theology night where we’d be talking about God’s Providence.  Perhaps I projected my own faithlessness onto him.  And though Bob dialogued about the topic, he didn’t reveal the news.  As the evening came to a close and people began to leave, I turned to Bob and asked him how he was.  He spoke honestly about how he felt to be a man whose wife of 34 years has cancer.  I just listened.  After he finished, I asked him how his bride was feeling.  He paused, tears began to well up in his eyes.  Then he said something that blew every critic, complaint, concern I had away…

He said that she was being very strong and that she didn’t want everyone to worry.  Then he said that one of the first statements to come out of her mouth was, “I just want God to be glorified through this.”  Bob cried and  I cried with him.  We prayed together in our tears, not knowing what will happen next, but declaring our trust in a God who does.  Bob was no longer talking about his theology, he and his bride were living it–in a way that perhaps I never have.  It was humbling, convicting, and beautiful.  For me, my tears were not only those of sorrow, but of joy in what God is doing in the hearts people like Bob and Betty.

As a church planter, it is all too easy to be discouraged by the externals, to depend on numbers, to be hurt when people leave, and to wonder if anyone is listening and if any of it really matters at all.  Be encouraged, be faithful to the gospel in word and deed, and trust that God is at work in ways you can’t see.