I Thank God for The Mentors Who Have Influenced Me!

Bill

Bill (Photo credit: J0nny_t)

I wanted to take the time to share my love and appreciation for the people in my life who have mentored me, and given me a greater understanding of Jesus and the Kingdom of God.  If it weren’t for your influences, I wouldn’t be who I am today!

My relationship with my first worship pastor, Bill Kirkwood, has impacted me in many ways.  I have to admit that Bill and I had a very tumultuous relationship at first when I worked as his intern of worship at the age of 24.  We didn’t get along during many moments.  It’s because we were opposites in so many ways.  Bill was more reserved, tactful, administrative, consistent and technical.  I was more extroverted, blunt, relational, inconsistent and spontaneous.  It’s obvious that we sharpened each other like the clanging together of an axe and a broadsword.  We had many disagreements while we worked in worship ministry together.  I was young, idealistic, and more impetuous than ever, and was convinced that Bill ought to sell his possessions and hang out with the poor.  Bill was trying to teach me how to lead worship for a congregation with a degree of humility, and teach me how to have greater compassion for the larger Body of Christ (and not just the geeks, freaks and misfits!).  In the end, I believe he developed a greater heart for the lost, and I became less prideful and a better worship leader (well…  for the most part! :).  He helped me to be careful about how I word things, and not just shoot from the hip all the time.  He helped me to gain greater control over my emotions.  He crystallized in me the importance of worship as well.  He showed me that this is the ultimate offering of music to God.  My wife and I will always be songwriters, and we’re willing to go to earthy places in our hearts without sinning in order to create a connection with people outside of the church.  However, it will always lead back to worship of the Creator for us, and this is because of Bill’s influence on us.  No matter how creative we are in our music as a tool for evangelism, it will always end in worship for us, and no set of music, whether played at a church, a bar or a coffee shop, would be complete without worshipping God in the midst of it.  Bill showed us this, and we are grateful for him.

My relationship with Noelle Beck, from First Glance Youth Center in Akron, OH, has also impacted me in many ways.  Again, like Bill, Noelle and I were opposites and didn’t have a natural understanding for one another!    According to the Myers-Briggs test, I am an ENFP, and Noelle is an ISTJ.  Noelle was the most organized, strategic, intentional, steadfast person that I have ever encountered.  I of course can tend to be messy, random, and inconsistent.  I can’t explain what it does to the soul of a person to be around someone that challenges you in every fiber of your being.  Noelle made me realize all of my weaknesses at once.  It was almost a complete over-load.  I suppose I may have done the same for her (though she might not admit it… haha just kidding).  But ultimately, Noelle and I shared a number of passions.  We had a passion for youth and a passion for the poor.  In the end we both realized that the Body of Christ is larger than what we create it to be in our limited minds.  She also encouraged me after my short stint of working at First Glance that I should pursue my passion for worship and music.  She challenged me that I need to be content with where I’m at, and quit trying to quench my insatiable wanderlust.

Doug Ley was a missionary in the Middle East for 12 years, and risked his life for the gospel.  My wife, Sarah and I got to spend a blessed year under the discipleship of him and his wife, Paula.  We also led a house ministry on Sunday nights that targeted agnostics and cynics, where we drank coffee and discussed philosophy and theology.  Doug challenged me in ways that stick with me to this day and beyond.  He taught me how to live the radical Christian life and reject the “American dream” in favor of a greater Kingdom dream.  He identified with my impulsive nature and gave me advice on how to tame it, though he never demeaned me or talked down to me.  He always treated me as a friend, and wasn’t afraid to speak hard truths into my life, but it was always done with love.

Duane Crabbs lives in the roughest ghetto of Akron, Ohio, the Summit Lake Area, where Lebron James grew up.  He’s had guns held to him, and both confronted as well as befriended crack dealers, pimps and gang members.  He’s seen ex-convicts, the homeless, drug addicts, prostitutes, and transvestites attend his church, called “South Street”.  He is a man that emobodies the dangerous nature of what it means to follow Jesus.  Unfortunately many believers have marginalized Duane because of his rough edges and widespread influence, much like the Pharisees marginalized Jesus for associating with the most broken and hurting members of society.  To many, including me, he’s a hero for Christ.  I had the privilege of spending many evenings with Duane over strong hot coffee, and sometimes in walking the streets and ministering in the hood.  He challenged me to live more faithfully and dangerously for Jesus.

Ralph Gatti now lives in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he is the director of Eastern European Navigators.  Ralph was once a wealthy CEO of a truck cap company.  But his faith always led him to generously fund and support urban ministries in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.  Many of the people who work on the front lines and ghettoes of Akron would pay their homage to Ralph, for without his support and discipleship, it wouldn’t have been possible.  Ralph also supported my wife and I, even when times were tough and we didn’t know where we fit in the church.  He funded an entire trip to Bulgaria for missions for us, which we could have never afforded.  He instilled a passion for the people of post-communist Eastern Europe in us as well.

And there are so many more I need to mention, though I won’t remember them all.  I thank God for Paul Sartarelli for showing me how to navigate the chasm between liberal and conservative values, and intelligently proposing the truths of Jesus to a skeptical world.  I thank God for Jim Mitchell, who taught me the value of empowering others and the beautiful synchronicity of being on a “leadership team”.  Jim, without your influence, it would be a greater desire of mine to see my own name advanced.  Because of you, God has given me a desire to see others succeed beyond myself.  I thank God for Greg Bryan, who discipled me and taught me to have a lifelong commitment to the Word of God in daily study- and Greg- I am grateful that you put up with my argumentative nature when I was a rowdy 22-year old loudmouth!  I am grateful to God for Jon Marko- who taught me the more weighty things of theology and challenged me to love God with my mind.  I am thankful to the Lord for Scott Budzar, who taught me that Jesus has a radical life-giving love for the poor and marginalized, and as followers of Jesus we need to recklessly embody those traits.  I am grateful to God for Drew Belden, who simply taught me that living a life of joy and encouragement is the greatest blessing to God, others and ourselves.  I am thankful to God for Brian Bales, who taught me that one can be a down to earth and normal guy as well as a pastor, and who also taught me the power of empowering others to do the work of the gospel.  Brian- you were an important friend and believed in me as a leader when I felt that no one did.  I am grateful to God for Trevor Skalberg, who has taught me that a life of holiness and unswerving commitment to God’s precepts is a powerful influence on a world of both followers and non-followers of Jesus.  I am grateful to Gary White, my Father, for being a friend and partner in crime…  I love that we understand each other Dad, and would never give up that friendship for anything!  I wouldn’t have wanted to be an apple that fell far from your tree!

We all need Jesus most of all, but we also need people who embody who Jesus is to us in our lives.  All of us should take the time to say thank you to those who have made a big impact for Jesus on us today.

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My Successes And Failures in Ministry Thus Far… Read This Like a Diary Entry!

My view of God has grown through personal devotions in many ways.  For one, my view of God’s majesty and sovereignty has expanded into greater depths and heights.  I am hungrier for God’s presence than I first was as a new believer.  The romance and idealism has died down since those days as an 18 year-old, unchurched zealot, but my love for Him has grown.  I’m now in a place where I long to be with Him early in the morning, while it is still dark and no one else is awake.  There are certainly days when I’m less disciplined and sleep in, but on better days, those quiet moments of prayer, scripture meditation and hot coffee are filled with blessing and the richness of God’s presence.  I see the Lord in a greater light of holiness now than ever before.  I see his mercy and love for me in every day experience.  I understand that His Will is so far beyond mine that none of my futile, narcissistic plans will ever come to fruition.  I desire to wait on His timing, though everything in me fights this incessantly. 

My view of God has also expanded through ministry and life experience.  When I was first an intern at a medium-sized church in the suburbs, I was an idealistic rebel.  Everything in me wanted to take the role of Jesus vs. the Pharisees, no matter how naive and uninformed I was in my quest.  Whenever I saw hypocrisy, lukewarmness and complacency I would shoot my tongue out like Cephas before Christ’s murder and ressurrection.  This zeal to reach the lost and broken, in my fight against my own religiosity and comfort, led me to work in more urban settings.  While doing all these things I became unsettled and the root of bitterness spread throughout my soul like a festering sore.  I realized I had become an addict to my own image.  I wanted everyone to think I was a radical Christian, but wasn’t really sure that everything I was doing was in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This led to an era of break down and searching.  I went back to the church I was an intern at and sought to reconcile with people I had been bitter towards.  I returned to school to finish my degree and Trinity, and refined my theological understanding.  I began to see that God has a love for the prostitute, the homeless man, the rich CEO, the apathetic complacent pastor, and the egomaniac like me.  When it comes to the cross the ground is even.  This has led me to where I am at now, working within the church and seeking to honor Jesus and make Him known to both Christians and non-Christians alike.  I never do this perfectly, but strive with the power that the Holy Spirit has given.

I have had success because of God’s blessing.  The greatest successes I’ve had is seeing hard to reach people and cynics come to Christ.  This is why I believe that the Lord called us out to New England, because both my wife and I have a heart for the hard to reach.  Sarah and I both grew up outside of the church and have a love for people with spiritual interests that don’t necessarily understand Jesus or His people.  

I can say with great assurance that our successes in ministry have not been monetary!  In fact, we have taken harder jobs with less pay, and continued to simplify our lives as a result.  Currently, we’re sharing one car and living in a small apartment.  We don’t have cable TV, and we’re thinking of dropping down to using one cell phone for both of us.  We’re doing ministry in the highly unchurched area of Conway, New Hampshire, a ski/mountain town.  It seems at this point that we’re one of the few churches in town that is teaching the bible, and one of the only ones that is growing.  We’ve started a youth group that has grown from no one to twenty kids.  We have a small group that meets on Tuesday nights that is geared towards intellectuals and non-believers.  We’re part of a church re-plant that has grown from 40 people to 140 people in the past year and a half.  We’ve seen people come into a true relationship with Jesus in this body of believers.  God is doing great things, and these are the greatest successes of all, despite the financial struggles and continued dependence on the Lord for provision.

Yet there have been myriad failures along the way as well.  My greatest failures have been due to impetuousness.  Like Peter, I’ve often wanted to jump ahead of Jesus Himself before understanding exactly what He’s asking me to do!  Every failure I’ve had can be summed up this way.  I haven’t had obvious moral failures like adultery or pornography, drug or alcohol problems while I’ve been in ministry (before I was a Christian I had all these problems for sure!).  God help me never to fall in this way, for we are all prone to failure, but He is stronger!  My failures have been due to a lack of taming my tongue, or lashing out in anger at someone because they rubbed me the wrong way.  I’ve had to learn to shut my mouth and pray for awhile, allowing the anger to pass, and in the midst of this I’ve found great blessings, seeing God work the situation out better than I could.  In these moments I’ve just as well experienced refining from the Lord that has been painful in the present and sweet in the aftermath.

My view of myself has also grown through personal devotions.  My outward narcissism and inward insecurity have been replaced by a trust and reliance in Christ.  Every day I seem to become bolder in my witness, and yet more tactful as well.  If it weren’t for the Word of God, these things would be impossible. 

I also have greater confidence as a man and a provider.  Being raised by parents of the 60’s often led me to a lack confidence or understanding of what it meant to be a spiritual leader of my wife.  Before I really studied it, I thought the Bible portrayed manhood as akin to Wally Cleaver, and wanted nothing to do with archaic 1950’s chauvenism.  But now that I’ve seen the beauty and love that’s described in Ephesians 5, I’ve been given great strength and courage from the Lord to lead my wife well by example, with strength, courage, provision, devoted love and understanding (though I have my moments of impatience of course!)

The Bible Has High Standards For Leaders in the Church, and We Ought to Strive to Live up to Them!

The standard for being a “spiritual leader” in the Bible is really intense!  In a culture where so many are half-hearted about this, and treat it so much more like a “job” than a sacrificial mission, it’s important to look at everything that Paul wrote to Timothy about being a “pastor” or leader/overseer in the church…  I thought it would be good to test myself against these standards as well, and see how I fall short of them!  Nonetheless, I desire to embody them, and only with Christ’s power is this possible.

1 Timothy 3:1-7:   Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.  Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.  (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.  He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

“Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.”  It is certainly no small duty to have the calling of leadership over God’s people.  This isn’t something that should be taken lightly, because there will be greater sacrifice and accountability involved in it.

“The overseer is to be above reproach”.  God’s choice of men who oversee the church need to be the “cream of the crop”, not in the sense of talent or charisma, but more in the sense of a life of holiness and blamelessness.  I ask myself every day as I spend time with the Lord, “am I above reproach?”  There are times when I rush myself too quickly and miss the time to lay myself before Him.  I desire to pray Psalms 139 for the Lord to “test me and know my heart, see if there is any unclean way in me and lead me in the way everlasting”.  I don’t want make people stumble by commiting any serious sins or moral failures, but I also don’t want to say or do anything that will lead others astray.

“Faithful to his wife”.  Do I look at any woman the wrong way?  Am I willing to subject myself to the highest forms of accountability in the area of pornography, or do I think that I can manage that temptation on my own?  Is our sex life healthy?  Am I loving my wife and leading her to flourish joyfully in her faith and life?  With all the visual temptations walking in the form of the beautiful women of the world, I need to hold firm to Job’s covenant, who swore not to look lustfully at a woman, and not give a second glance, leaning on Christ to provide me with a way out.  If I sense that a girl is being flirty with me I need to cordially but firmly practice what Joseph did with Potiphar’s wife and flee from the situation!  I also subscribe to xxxchurch.com and my wife is my accountability partner in the area of porn.  If I ever were to look at something innappropriate, she’d be the first to know because they would send her an email with the site link.  Even though I haven’t fallen to porn in 10 years, I could have a moment of weakness and I don’t want to give in to it.

To be “temperate” means to exercise moderation and self-restraint.  I think of this in terms of eating food, but also in terms of watching TV and movies… or other “cheap”, easily over-used addictions that provide mindless pleasure.  My wife and I just got rid of our cable box, and even though we still enjoy DVDs and TV shows online from time to time, we’re working on having more “face time” with each other.  We want to spend a better amount of time in fruitful conversations.  We want to write music together, play board games and laugh with each other often.  There are certainly always those days when we opt out of the more meaningful things of life to lazily gaze at a series of Wonder Years re-runs, but we try to keep ourselves on track with all the enjoyment that God could have for us outside of these easy “fixes”.

To be “self-controlled” is to have healthy disciplines in place that keep me spiritually healthy and continually growing in my faith.  My most recent endeavor has been to wake up at 5am in the morning while it’s still dark and spend an hour in the Word and Prayer (with a hot cup of coffee and breakfast!).  I must admit at times when I’m especially tired or lower on sleep I may hit the snooze button a few times!  After I’m in the Word, I usually exercise for a half hour and shower, and then my wife Sarah wakes up and we go through a study we’re doing together for a half hour to forty-five minutes.  Then I’m able to get out of the door at 7:30am and be to work on time.  I’ve also realized that if I’m going to lead our congregation well on Sunday morning, I have to make the sacrifice and get up at 4:30am to spend time in prayer and the Word, because I have to be at the church at 6:30am.  I don’t always perform these disciplines perfectly, but I will continue to strive to make them ingrained in my life.  Somehow, having this morning routine has effected other areas of my life profoundly.  I find that I’m far more receptive and walking in step with the Holy Spirit, and when crises or annoyances come, I’m far more obedient to what God would have me do.  On days where I don’t practice these, I can be more snippy and short-fused (which is my natural disposition!).

To be “respectable” is to be honorable and of worthy conduct.  This is an area where I struggle more than others.  At times I may find myself caught up in coarse joking or sarcasm, certainly not to the point of being utterly disgusting and offensive, but I could certainly do better to be more polite and tactful in my speech.  In one sense, my juvenile personality wins me a voice with teenagers and cynics, but I’m also aware that these people can be won without being ridiculous and immature.

To be “hospitable” is to have an open door policy in our home, cell phone and even allow for interruptions in our routine in order to open our lives to people.  Again, this brings about heavy reliance on the Holy Spirit.  How many times have I been in a rush to get out the door and on to a busy day, and someone interrupts my flow of routine?  Can I be both responsible with boundaries and still be flexible enough to meet people in their time of need?  With the help of the Lord’s guidance this is possible.  I’ve realized that overcoming my initial irritation at interruptions has allowed me to open myself to the Lord and maybe even get a glimpse into where this person is at.  Hospitality also needs to be practiced with both people who do and don’t follow Jesus.  Sarah and I try to regularly invite friends to our home to enjoy food, coffee, movies and conversation so that we can be a blessing to them, no matter where they’re at spiritually.

To be “able to teach” is to be able to explain the precepts and mysteries of scripture to others.  This is an important lifelong quest for me.  I could easily fill my head with a lot of theology and talk about grand, cerebral concepts while people sit in the “pews” and saw logs, but do I live my theology, and am I able to explain the precepts of God to a heroin addict on the street, a rich upper-middle class doctor, and a young child?  If what I’m communicating isn’t penetrating to the level of the heart, then it’s just babble.

“Not given to drunkenness”.  I feel that this is a truly unpopular demand made upon especially young leaders in the church today.  I even have friends who seem to think that having an occassional beer amidst the drunks at a bar is no big deal.  And in one sense it is drunkenness that is condemned in scripture, and not having a drink.  But I’ve seen these same friends have moments of going overboard.  And I’m talking here of people on staff at churches, bible believing churches nonetheless, who are getting drunk and making a disgrace of the cross of Christ to a watching world.  We are called to not make anyone stumble.  In our culture, that would mean that the only drinking we do would be in secret, because a teenager could see me throwing a brew down in a bar and be inspiring to go and down a 12 pack because his youth pastor was doing it.  What good can come of this?  It seems that the greatest solution to the drinking issue in our church and culture is just to abstain altogether, for “everything is permissable, but not everything is beneficial”.  This is a personal conviction and a grey area, I know, but I’ve been through eras in my life as a leader of God’s people where I would occasionally have a beer without ever getting drunk, and I just don’t see the point or good of that anymore.

“Not violent but gentle”.  I have deeply struggled with this precept, because I am truly a fiesty man.  My Dad had a short fuse, and so do I.  It always chilled me to the bone to realize that Jesus called anger spiritual murder.  I do understand how the root of anger can birth malice and turn into a chaotic emotion that has lost all control.  This issue has taken much prayer for me.  Will I choose to flip out at the person going 7 miles under the speed limit in front of me while I’m running late?  Will I curse and swear when the 3 year old child who lives with his family in the apartment above my wife Sarah and I decides to stomp around at 10:30pm an hour past when we’ve fallen asleep?  This takes great faith and I only need more of it.  The Lord has definitely changed this in me, because when I was 18 years old I would get angry enough to break inanimate objects on a regular basis, now I just get angry enough to yell at my cats when they behave as miscreants or fill their litter box with a myriad of turd nuggets and pee-cakes.

“Not quarrelsome”.  We live in a culture where people patronize each other often face to face, and don’t deal with conflict.  I’ve certainly been guilty of this.  The worst thing about our culture is the fact that we have Facebook and blogs to vent our frustrations, which haven’t been dealt with biblically according to Matthew 18.  I’ve also been guilty of doing this in the past.  But now I understand clearly that if I have a conflict with someone in the church, I am to go to them one on one and deal with it.  Of course if they won’t listen then I’ll have to go with a witness, and if still they won’t then I’ll have to bring it before leaders in the church.  So ultimately I hope to always put this into practice, so as to avoid any unnecessary quarreling.  And I have discovered, the hard way, that all quarreling is unnecessary.

“Not a lover of money”.  Wow, we’ve really dropped the ball on this one in our modern day church… at least in the context of the “First World”!  It’s important to mention that there are many pastors and spiritual leaders who aren’t addicted to the love of money.  There are those who constantly meet the needs of the poor, are generous with their resources, and don’t live an ugly American life.  We ought to look at the examples of leaders like Rick Warren, who tithes 90% of his large fortune to the church and the work of global mission in many varied and needy countries.  We ought to look at guys like Francis Chan, who is described in a Christianity Today article:  “Despite what is clearly a flourishing ministry, Chan remains an anomaly. He lives in a tract house in one of Simi Valley’s down-and-out suburbs with his wife and four children. He rides a 1995 Honda Elite scooter to work.  According to one comment he made in a sermon, Chan gives away about 90 percent of his income (though his church administrator preferred the phrase “most of his income”). Chan doesn’t take a salary from his church, and his book royalties, which total about $500,000, mostly go to organizations like International Justice Mission, which rescues sex slaves in foreign countries. The Chans often open their home to families who need a place to stay. One of Cornerstone’s community pastors, Bill Lucas, lived with Chan for nine months, and says he “lives out what he says.  In an age that is cynical about religious leaders, the Chans’ lifestyle no doubt helps to explain why the pastor has attracted so many listeners and readers. There is also his restlessness to bring others to a relationship with Christ, even if it means starting all over again.”  (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/october/30.42.html)

And there are many more examples of sacrificial Jesus followers who have abandoned the worthlessness of riches, like Keith Green, A.B. Simpson, Charles Wesley, Rich Mullins, Shane Claiborne, and David Platt…

Yet, we are in our scenarios in our world.  We need to remember that as Americans, even if we are in the lower-middle class, we are wealthy.  The 3rd World experiences poverty that we could never imagine- not having clean drinking water, or living on a ear of corn a day.  So with that presupposition we should interpret what being a “lover of money” truly is.  We live in an age where too many pastors drive luxury cars and live in lavish homes with big screen TVs, and 401K’s.  They take regular trips to Barbados and other various vacation destinations.  They have nothing but new designer clothes, and they have all the latest toys- iPods, expensive computers, iPhones and iPads.  I write this from a year old MacBook Pro, while wearing my designer Vans shoes.  I eat three meals, usually of my choice, a day.  I am filthy rich because of this.  But there are families of 6 in Bulgaria that live comfortably in a 4 room apartment, and there are people in Africa who are living with families of 10 in a one room mud-hut.  Is there something wrong with this picture?  Yes there is.  We as pastors ought to live sacrificially, which in America, is still a very comfortable life.  We’re afraid that if we drive a junk car people will make fun of us, we’re afraid that if we live in a smaller home people will accuse us of making our family suffer.  But we aren’t thinking biblically, we’re thinking in our American framework.  We as pastors in America shouldn’t make the excuses we do- the American church represents merely 4% of the total population of the global church!  The way we think and act as a cultural expression of the Body of Christ is not in the majority.  The prophets would call us greedy and consumeristic, as well as shutting our ears to the cries of the poor.  Their voices are not irrelevant to us today.

“He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.”  These principles have begun with loving my wife and leading her well, most of all by example, so that she may flourish and have joy, purpose and peace in her life and faith.  But now that she is pregnant with a little girl, I realize that I hope to follow all the precepts we’ve mentioned above, as well as being fiercely loving and nurturing to my child.  I only hope and pray that God will allow my wife and I to be the beginning of a good legacy, and that we’ll be remembered by our great-grandchildren as people who loved and lived for Jesus in a way that’s tangible and inspiring to them.

“He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.”  When I first “got nabbed” by Jesus, I immediately wanted to be in a leadership role of some sort.  I was certainly by no means a humble man, especially when God grabbed a hold of me.  Then I came across this passage and it ran a chill down my spine.  Being conceited, like I was, is the same mistake that the devil made- trying to put himself equal with or above God Himself.  Now after more years of hitting walls and maturing I can say that I prayerfully seek to hear the Lord’s voice instead of confusing His with my own.

“He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap”.  I certainly wish that all pastors would see how important it is for the church to have an impact on it’s surrounding community, region, country and globe in small and big ways.  I really believe that this verse is telling us that we should be the cultural custodians of the communities in which we minister.  When we pick up dry cleaning, or grab chinese food, or pay for groceries, people always have their eyes on us, especially if they know we are pastors or church leaders.  We should reflect Christ at all times.  Beyond that, we should continually be in redemptive relationships with people who don’t know Jesus yet.  We will have difficulty encouraging our people to reach out to those outside of the church when we are not seeking to do so as well.  It’s interesting that if we don’t do this, we’ll “fall into the devil’s trap”.  I suppose it is the devil’s trap just as well to become insulated and religious without being fueled by the merciful mission of Jesus.

So there we go!  I’ve tested myself against this passage of scripture, and just like when I first read it, I have a long way to go!  However, I’m grateful for the work God has done and continues to do in my life in all of these areas, and can only pray He’ll do the same for you, whether you’re a churchy church-man or just a normal person who loves the Lord.

Why Scripture is Trustworthy

Irenaeus compiled a list of apostolic successi...

Irenaeus compiled a list of apostolic succession, including the immediate successors of Peter and Paul'' (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16)

Paul makes a bold statement to his young squire Timothy here when he says that “all Scripture is breathed out by God”.  In this context, he was referring to the Old Testament.

Did this mean that Timothy had to continue to follow the “laws about bodily discharges” from Leviticus 15 in the context of the church in the Roman world?  Did it mean that people would still be put to death for sexual immorality, as Leviticus 20:10-21 speaks about?

This is where it’s important to understand that there were cultural laws within the Old Testament that applied to Israel at that time, and then there was the “heart of the law” that applied to God’s people for all time.  The heart of the law would include things like the ten commandments and verses like Leviticus 20:26 that say, “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” As well as Leviticus 19:18, which states, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself:  I am the Lord.”

We need to understand the meaning and context behind all of the scripture to understand what it truly means.  And we shouldn’t distort it to fit our own preferred cultural framework, but need to see it as it is.

Yet even the words of Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James and Jude (the brothers of Jesus), Peter and the unknown author of Hebrews are accepted as scripture today.  F.F. Bruce makes a helpful comment about why these writings are accepted as “breathed out from God”, when there were many extra-biblical writings that were rejected as being consistent with the life and teachings of Christ and His people/the church (such as many Gnostic gospels).  Bruce says;

The Canon of Scripture, then, is the list of writings delivered to us as the divinely inspired record of God’s self-revelation to men―that self-revelation of which Jesus Christ our Lord is the centre. The writings are not authoritative because they are included in the list; they are in the list because their authority has been recognized. For example, the oracles of the prophet Amos were stamped with divine authority as he uttered them in the name of Israel’s God. They were written down some time after they were spoken, and it was some time after that that they were included in the canon or list of prophetic writings. Divine authority comes first: canonicity follows authority and is dependent upon it. Similarly, the individual Epistles of Paul bore the stamp of divine authority because he wrote them as the apostle or plenipotentiary of the risen Christ: ‘the things which I write unto you’, he said, ‘are the commandments of the Lord’ (1 Cor. xiv. 37). But it was at a later time, and because of the authority which they already possessed, that these individual Epistles were included in the list of sacred writings.

One may ask why we should trust that these writings were really legitimate.  After all, weren’t these corrupt religious men who were trying to further their institution and wanted to oppress and force their patriarchal megalomania upon the modern world they found themselves in?  One of the main proponents of the New Testament canon as we know it today was Irenaeus, who was a hearer of Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of John the Evangelist.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irenaeus)  According to this, the leader that helped bring about the first canonization of New Testament Scripture, was a third generation follower of Jesus- directly from the apostle John, who walked and talked with Jesus.  And Irenaeus was not some corrupt papal authority sitting on a throne having people groups wiped out and lining his golden toilet with rubies.  Irenaeus was a leader in the church during a time of great persecution, when followers of Christ were being put to death for their faith.  He succeeded Pothinus, who was martyred for his faith.  By defending the truth of who Jesus really is Irenaeus was putting his life on the line as well.

So ultimately, the authority of scripture is trustworthy, and was breathed into the minds and pens of imperfect men by a perfect God.  It’s supernatural and amazing, but it’s true.  Are you willing to delve into it and allow these words of God to shape and transform your life?

Good Advice for Hot-Heads Like Me

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.  God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil.” (2 Tim. 2:24-26)

Paul is again writing to his young apprentice Timothy, and speaking to him about how he is to behave as a leader of this new movement of Christ followers in the first century.  The words are pertinent to us today as much as they were to Timothy then.  This is a wise old dude, who has become self-controlled and peaceful, speaking to who could potentially be a hot-headed, passionate young man.  

I realize that, potentially like every 30 year old guy, every fiber of my being desires to quarrel, argue and justify what I feel.  But I know instead, especially as a leader of God’s people… the church that is…  that I need to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”  I am charged to have kindness and patiently endure slander, evil, shallowness, argument and hate.  This is not naturally within me, so I need the help of the Holy Spirit to pull me through.  

And as followers of Jesus, if people oppose what we’re saying, we need to gently speak the truth.  This can’t be a phony thing, either.  If we truly believe with all our heart, soul, mind and strength all that Jesus is and claimed to be, then we’ll have peace about it.  We won’t want to force it on people, but will have a compassionate heart of love, a heart that breaks for others in their pain, suffering and sorrow.  

God is the One that grants repentance to people.  It’s mind blowing how He’s described as doing it in these verses above.  It is literally through the gentleness, patience and example of a follower of Jesus that someone may consider what Jesus is saying.  If we’re out in the world throwing verbal bombs at every person that disagrees with us, how can we expect that any of these will even consider the gospel?  We are to lovingly, peacefully rest in truth and love…  sharing the gospel when we are given opportunity.  The gospel should always be shared out of love and peace, and if it can’t be shared that way it shouldn’t be shared at all.  If you’re the kind of follower of Jesus that struggles with being short fused and quick tongued, then learn to be quiet and loving.  Learn to listen well and be patient before you are quick to offer pad answers.

Notice how Paul also says at the end of these verses that those who are granted repentance by God will “come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil”.  Isn’t it the devil’s work to entrap people?  The devil’s work is definitely not to give people a fun, lavish life.  His work is to destroy a person’s joy and fulfillment.  He’s constantly throwing greed, addiction, distraction, laziness, arrogance and many more things in the face of the entire created order.  Those who take the bait end up snared and trapped.  Those of us who see the devil as some fun loving Shakespearean Falstaff, or a court jester with a joint hanging out of his mouth, have him all wrong.  He’s a scheming salesperson dressed in sexy clothes.  He knows every angle, and his objective is the destruction of people.  

God’s objective is the fulfillment and joy of people through the death of Jesus Christ His Son.  This is a joy that transcends and endures human suffering.  It’s the joy we really all long for, and it’s freely offered to whomever would freely receive it.

 

Supernatural Reality Can’t be Shoved Down Someone’s Throat!

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal.  But the Word of God is not bound!  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Tim. 2:8-10)

Paul is speaking of some facts here that many may question, but they are facts that were proven and written of, spoken of and handed down by trustworthy people and not fabricators of myth.  Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and appeared to many… not just his close knit crew of followers either.  Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 15:  “He was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also.”

These facts were handed down by a group of people who were intensely persecuted for believing this…  to the point of being beaten, imprisoned and killed.  Paul was one of these as it says in 2 Timothy.  He was suffering, bound with chains as a criminal.  It wasn’t because he was a cult leader or a megalomaniac miscreant.  He was simply spreading around the news that Jesus Christ had died, taking on the sins of humanity in His death, and that putting faith in Him would revolutionize one’s life.  People were believing this- prostitutes, the homeless, the blind, the rich, the elite, the military-minded, the intellectual, the religious, the barbarian, drunks and tea-totalers.  It was a threat to the powers that be- both religious and governmental.  These powers were deceived into thinking that this movement was a revolution that would overtake their positions of authority.  They were certainly shocked when they would try and beat up, kill and imprison followers of Jesus, and their response would be to pray “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they’re doing!”

And Paul endured all of these things “for the sake of the elect”.  Only God knew who was going to be drawn to follow Jesus, and Paul thought it was worth it to share this news with everyone he could, so that the few who God knew would believe it would believe it.  You might say to yourself, “if God already knew, then why did Paul have to go in His stead to suffer?”  It’s because the beauty that exists beyond this life in the Kingdom of heaven is greater, and also, God would not impose this love and truth on any person.  Yet somehow, God knows the hearts of those who would be drawn to these truths.

Those of you that have read some of my other posts know how wild a life I led.  Deep down, I was searching for something more than the life of degraded, drug ridden misery that I saturated myself with.  As you read on, you will see how God began to invade into my world.  It was at some of my worst moments.  This is why I would give Him full credit for drawing me to Himself, because I was too whacked out to “elect myself” to follow Him.  This of course elicited a response as well, so it is a double sided coin.

But I know there are many others out there whom God is already revealing Himself to, and we ought to pray and hope that we would be led to them to better explain exactly what is happening in their heart and mind!  This isn’t something that can be forced.  It is far too supernatural and beyond us to shove down someone’s throat.

Does Prayer Blow Your Mind?

Paul remembered Timothy constantly in his prayers night and day, because he loved and cared for him.  In this instance, Paul is caring for and praying for someone he has been a mentor to, and has entrusted him with care over a ministry.

I think we ought to develop the same kind of love for others, so that people might see the unconditional love of God ooze out of us.  Then when asked about it, we won’t be able to help but say that we are tapping into the only true source of unconditional love- Jesus Himself.

I’ve had experiences praying lately that have blown my world apart.  I recognize that God puts a love for people on our hearts.  Some of them may be those who follow Jesus, and we should pray for them with a great love and urgency.

Others may be those who don’t follow Jesus, and we should pray for them with the same kind of urgency.  Early in Paul’s first letter to Timothy this is reiterated when he writes, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people”.  Then Paul goes on to say that we should pray for leaders in government (of course whether we agree with them or not…  but that’s for another post)  🙂  God’s heart is always bursting and available for us to connect with.  He wants us to love people as He does.  When He puts people on our heart we should pray for them… wherever we are and whatever we’re doing.

Last night I was praying for a couple that I know are going through some hard times at a prayer meeting.  None of the people in the meeting knew these two, but I felt compelled to pray for them in the presence of others.  I got a text last night before I was about to retire to slumber from the girl in the couple, telling me that she wasn’t sure what kind of vibe I threw out into the universe, but that her and this guy had a good talk and come to a better understanding.

This is the power of prayer.  It’s not as if I heard this news and said, “Oh yeah, of course…”  I was like, “Wow, are you serious?”  God wants to blow our minds.  He wants us to see that He really is powerful, He really is there, He really is in control.

God Will Have the Hypocrites and Imposters Found Out

The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgement, but the sins of others appear later.  So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden… (1 Tim. 5:24-25)

Paul is writing to Timothy, his young protege whom will carry on the work of defending the gospel, salvation and teaching of Jesus.  Of course, there are already people in the 1st Century after Jesus dies and rises that begin to distort and contort this teaching.  This is who Paul is referring to in the above statement.  Some of these imposters are good at hiding their scams…  their deeds are “conspicuous”, though they still “go before them to judgement”, because God sees inside the hearts of everyone.  

On the flip side are those that do “good works”.  One can be “conspicuous” about doing good things that reflect the ways of Jesus.  In fact, this is how they are to be done, in anonymity and seeking the honor of things unseen instead of flagrantly displayed to gain the favor of the temporal society. (Matt. 6:1-4)  Nonetheless, those that do good will be found out as well, because these things can’t “remain hidden” either, for they benefit others and fill them with joy overflowing.  Did Mother Theresa bandage the wounds of lepers in Calcutta to be noticed?  No.  However, people took notice.  Was the Salvation Army started to become a well known world-wide organization?  No.  It was begun to bring the gospel, food and shelter to the hurting and homeless, and it became recognized for it’s positive effect on society as well as it’s example of a reflection of Jesus to the watching world.

It is the same for us who follow Jesus today.  Those of us who present ourselves as “pastors” or “leaders”, must be deeply careful of our hidden, inner life.  We will be found out for whatever we’re doing, whether we think it’s small or large.  Spiritual leaders in the church- how do you behave at 2 a.m. on a Friday night while everyone is asleep and you think no one is watching?  God sees every bit- He is just enough to have you found out somehow, someway.  Guard your life and your heart from hypocrisy.  We must learn from the failures of televangelistic self-proclaimed demigods and pedophile pontiffs.  Even the little things we do in secret will eventually be no secret at all, neither to God nor people.  Therefore we’re not only to confess them to God, but also to people, and if they’re severe, we ought to confess them before all people and come clean.  We shouldn’t guard a paycheck or our ego in order to keep ourselves in the status quo.  We ought to live such holy and good lives that a stranger could have a hidden camera in our house and see that we are both normal, consistent with our public appearance, and above reproach in every way.

Easter For the Millennial Generation

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We live in a world of quick fixes…  Mass media technology gives us quick answers from wikipedia and the online dictionary.  If I wanted to use a more impressive version of the word “quick” I could look on the online thesaurus and in a manner of seconds, change the word to “cursory”, in order to sound more intelligent than I am.  

This spills into our spirituality as well.  As the Millennial generation resurrection Easter season approaches, we will still be moving at a faster pace than we ourselves can handle.  It will be difficult, even for many of us who will go to some sort of church building, temple, or cathedral today, to stop and ponder the significance of this day.  Some of us won’t even wish to do this, and maybe listen to some sort of online message, or even read this blog and say it is enough spirituality for the day, because we’d wish to not be subjected to the scrutiny of peers.

We’re in good company to some extent!  Two-thousand years ago there was a man named Thomas who literally saw Jesus, the God-man he had walked with for 3 years and given up everything to follow, and didn’t buy it.  He had a reaction akin to Jack White of the White Stripes and seemed to almost exclaim, “I was walking with a ghost, I said please, please don’t exist!”  That may be an exaggeration, because Thomas likely wanted to believe, but couldn’t find it in himself to do so.

So Jesus asked Thomas to stick his fingers in His nail pierced side.  Pretty intense, I know!  Jesus then tells Thomas, “stop doubting and believe”.  Thomas replied by exclaiming “My Lord and my God!”  And then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  

This account from the ancient text of the scriptures can teach us many things.  For one thing, Jesus commands Thomas to believe, and Thomas does!  This shows the power of God to usurp the human will at times, especially within the willing heart of an individual.  

Fast forward two-thousand years later, and our mass media saturated generation that so quickly dismisses things that don’t seem appealing or easy has something to learn.  Jesus says, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  

Now I do think that Jesus can reveal Himself however He wants to whomever He wants at whichever time He wants!  Thomas literally got the chance to see him face to face, and yet still hesitated.  Some of us may read about Jesus in the Bible and hesitate, or accept Him on a mere intellectual level.

I would challenge you that if you truly come to God with a naked soul today, and simply ask Him to reveal who He TRULY is to you today, minus religious pretensions you may have experienced, or the fact that you feel unworthy yourself, Jesus will show up for you and invade your heart with the same words as He did Thomas, “stop doubting and believe!”  He certainly did for this crazy kat, who was strung out and hopeless and with an open heart and mind truly asked Him to show Himself.  He will for you too…  but are you willing to respond to true truth when it is staring at you with undeniable grandeur?

Addicted to Love and Truth

“Practice these things…  be an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity… devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching…  immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”  (pieced together from 1 Tim. 4:12-16)

Here we have Paul writing this young kid that he has been a mentor and friend to for years how he is now to lead God’s people.  It’s likely that at this point, Timothy was in his late twenties or early thirties.  It seems clear that Paul is saying to him that faith is beyond a moment of time where emotions lead one to give their life over to Jesus.  It’s also a life of spiritual disciplines, including public things such as love, faith and purity, being a good teacher and understanding what the ancient text of scripture says, but also “keeping a close watch on himself and his teaching”.  Timothy is to “persist in this”, and by so doing will “save himself and his hearers”.  

There is an act of the will involved here, and it is a response to radical grace.  All of us who are followers of Jesus need to pursue him passionately.  One great reason why many leaders fall into moral failure, greed, apathy, complacency, religiosity, and irrelevance is that they don’t persist in the pursuit of God.  This pursuit is an adequate, beautiful, fulfilling replacement for any of the addictive behaviors and patterns that we as humans so easily fall into.  We were created to be addicts of some sort- why not be addicted to and in pursuit of all that is lovely, true and joy-filled?