What are you chewing on?

It’s not enough to simply read the Bible.

Jesus made an audacious promise at the end of His sermon on the mount: “Everyone who hears these words of Mine, and puts them into practice is like a wise man who builds his house on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24 NIV)

Here is the problem. It’s easy to hear the words of God; the challenge is putting them into practice. In between the hearing and the doing I hit a wall. It’s easy to hear about loving your enemies or serving your wife or holding your tongue or sharing your stuff. The challenge is the real world of traffic and trials and jerks.

So how do we put God’s words into practice? Meditation.

Your life will follow your meditation.

Look at what God told Joshua: “This Book of the Law must not depart from your mouth, but you are to meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. Then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8)

The key to turning hearing these words into practicing these words is this controversial activity we call meditation. It’s an interesting word; it’s a misunderstood word; most of all, it’s a neglected word.

To “meditate” is to chew – again and again. Just like a cow chews the cud, God told Joshua to chew on His Word. The interesting thing about the word is how connected it is to words like muttering, musing, even speaking.  In other words, meditation is not a silent and passive activity. Your mouth, body, mind, and spirit all work together when you meditate.

Your life will follow your meditation. So what are you chewing on?

Truth be told, meditating is not reserved for monks in a monastery. We meditate all the time. You already chew; the question is What are you chewing on? If you’ve ever complained in traffic; if you’ve ever shared a Facebook post; if you’ve ever rehearsed what you wanted to say to your boss; if you’ve ever sung along with a song on the radio; if you’ve ever quoted the lines of a movie … then you know how to meditate.

One of the breakthroughs in life comes when we get honest about the “monasteries” that we belong to. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Blogs. CNN. Sports talk. People magazine. Wired magazine. The National Enquirer. USA Network. Friends and family. Porn.

Your life will follow your meditation. It’s a law. Some objects of meditation lead you to worry. Some will lead you to pride. Some will get you angry.  Others will stir you to gossip.

And then there’s God’s Word.

According to God, the key to transformation is not to empty your mind, but to fill it with His Word.  And the promise is clear: then you will make your way prosperous, then your life will be built on a rock.  (Joshua 1, Matthew 7)

This calls for daily injections of the Bible.  Read it actively, attentively, and with some of your best energy.  You’ll start to feel like God is talking to you (because He is).  You’ll sometimes have the sense that these words are alive (because they are).  So when you hit a passage that seems to really click, or apply, or comfort, or challenge … don’t rush by too quickly.  You might even want to memorize a verse and keep repeating it throughout the day.  Or share it on social media.

Pause.  Chew.  Think.  Write it down.  Say it out loud.  Say it again.  Say it again. Take it deep.  Chew a little more.

Don’t be surprised when Jesus shows up.  Because your life will follow your meditation.

Missouri & Yale & the gaps in our Gospel.

I’m reading the reports from Missouri and Yale and thinking about the gaps in our Gospel.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)

Woe to those who consolidate their spirituality into their personal piety while neglecting social action. Woe to those who go to church and live moral lives and claim right theology while neglecting justice. Woe to those who claim a change on the inside that never makes a difference to those weeping on the outside. At least that’s what Jesus said.

We always like to think of ourselves as the protagonist. When the preacher tells the story of David and Goliath, well, I’m David. Of course. The application is always along the lines of, You can do this. Find your slingshot. Trust God, and your enemies will fall. The story concludes with little David triumphantly removing the head of his massive and arrogant adversary. All the little Davids leave church happy. Yet I’ve never heard a preacher land the sermon with, Hey big man, don’t lose your head. Because I’m always the protagonist. I couldn’t be Goliath.

As I watch the cultural challenges unfold before us in the news and social media I keep thinking of Jesus’ words to the hypocrites of his day. I’m sure they thought they were David, and yet Jesus calls them Goliath.

Don’t lose your head.

Don’t neglect the weightier matters of the law.

Weightier matters. What an interesting thought. Jesus says justice is weightier than tithing. Listen, I’m a preacher and we take up offerings every week, but I don’t want to lose my head. I wonder what would happen if we printed out all the sermons preached around the country on tithing and put them on one side of a scale. And then we printed out all the sermons preached on justice and placed them on the other side of the scale. Which pile would be weightier?

Which brings me to college campuses around our nation. Let there be justice.

Missouri2

What is justice? It is the equitable application of God’s moral law in society. Dr. King would write from a Birmingham jail that a just law is a law that squares with God’s law. If he is right, there is no true justice without the true Judge. Which means, of all the people on planet earth, those who claim to know the Judge should be the very most vocal about justice.

And herein lies our problem. When the people who should influence the conversation do not influence the conversation, we leave a vacuum. When the people who should address injustice do not address injustice, justice becomes a moving target. Our protagonist David had a son named Absalom (2 Samuel 13-20). He turned out to be wicked, but I’m not so sure he started out as twisted as we might assume. His treachery begins when his sister is raped, and then subsequently disgraced. For reasons we cannot explain, King David does nothing to address the tragedy. He loses his head. Failed justice embitters Absalom’s soul and turns his heart sour. The story ends with tragedy and unnecessary bloodshed. But the point is this: in the presence of failed justice and unresolved bitterness, hearts become poisoned. Absalom would not sit by and do nothing.

But a bitter activist is a bad answer to a justice problem.

Which is why I am praying that the people of Jesus will listen to Jesus and learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression. (Isaiah 1:17). Hey Goliath, don’t lose your head. Black lives matter. Justice is at the top of God’s agenda. And maybe we will hear what the Spirit is saying to the church in these days.

Things always go south when we neglect the weightier matters of the law.

Our world needs activists – but not like Absalom. I think about men like John Perkins (who will be with us the final weekend of January). He is an activist, but he found the way to beat bitterness. He has washed the feet of a nation and turned the hearts of multitudes by doing what ordinary people would not: finding a way to truly hate the injustice – and fight the injustice – without allowing the injustice to sour him. I want to follow him.

It’s justice and mercy and faithfulness.

Just like the Cross. At the center of the Gospel is this breathtaking truth: the ultimate Judge was judged in my place. Justice was served and mercy prevailed as the faithfulness of God was poured out on a Goliath like me. Selah.

Ground Breakers

breaking-ground

Make disciples of ALL the nations. We haven’t fully embraced the Great Commission until we are committed to go to all the nations (ethnos) and all the peoples. Not just the easily-reached and already-touched. We really are called to take the Gospel where it is rare; to bring discipleship where it is uncommon; to break ground where the ground might still be hard.

For that reason we are praying for ground-breakers. If you know someone interested in being a part of this kind of ministry, send them our way. Here are a few short thoughts we shared with potential ground-breakers and church-planters at our Leadership Conference a few weeks ago.

1. Know your first love.

All ministry must flow out of our personal intimacy with God. I won’t bring on a pastor unless they are willing to separate two hours/day in the secret place with God. If you have not developed an extraordinary prayer life, now is the time to start. Part of your prayer need is actual intimate knowledge of Jesus. If you do not truly know Him, when the trials of launching come, you will crumble. “Extraordinary Prayer” is the #1 characteristic referenced by David Garrison as he studied church planting movements across the globe. The ground breaker must have an extraordinary personal commitment to prayer. There must also be a plan to provide corporate prayer cover. Establish a prayer team as soon as you have direction about what God might be leading you to do.

2. Know your family.

Is your family in order? Are you on the same page? What is the plan to “be there” for your spouse? And children? Date nights, family time, trips to visit out of town family must make it on your schedule. Few things demand constant withdraws like breaking ground. Prepare to establish boundaries you are willing to follow through on.

3. Know your APEST.

Some are apostles. Some are prophets. Others are evangelists or shepherds or teachers. It would be foolish to use these as titles, but the sooner you become honest about your Ephesians 4-giftedness the better. Pray for eyes to recognize such tendencies in the people and leaders around you. For example, you would be wise to acknowledge how much you’ll need to lean on the apostolic and evangelistic functions to establish growth; you’ll be in desperate need of the shepherding function in assimilation; etc. Launch with an eye for a well-rounded APEST reality.

4. Know your vision.

Keep track of what God has made clear. Figure out what really bothers you. What is your burden? What would you take a bullet for? What portions of Scripture seem to most inform your life direction? When you think about what could be and what should be, what comes to mind? I keep a journal, and every time something seems to be stirring that contributes toward vision I make a note with big circled V around it. Write it, rewrite it, pray it. Write out vision as short as a text message and as long as a page. But don’t settle for a vision; have an encounter with God for HIS vision.

5. Know your launch plan.

Your vision is hopefully inspiring and timeless, but ground breaking will need specific direction. Start formulating your plan. For example: We desire to be multi-ethnic from day one. We will launch in a home and desire to be in a macro church facility within a year. We will launch in homes and multiply house churches. We will plant a work in university setting. We will raise $20,000 before we launch. We will partner with a local school where we will do mission while securing a place to meet. Etc.

6. Know your stuff.

There is no reason to NOT be knowledgeable in ground breaking. Read books, google search articles from church-planters, master the book of Acts. Be a learner. Read without ceasing.

7. Know your place.

Where is God calling you to go? God will use you best in a place that you come to know. And love. Begin to pray for God’s heart, burden, passion, insight into the place where He is calling you. Ask for confirmation. Look to spiritual brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers for further confirmation.

Fathers, Rabbis, and the Way of Jesus

Fathers - hands

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” – the apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:15-16

The followers of Jesus knew He was different. He loved the unlovable; He sought out the lost and the least; He was changing the world at the deepest possible level. His life transcended the ordinary in every way imaginable, and these disciples wanted to follow His lead. As they realized there was something pivotal about His prayer life, they asked Him to teach them the way. Jesus response? When you pray, relate to God like this: “Our Father…”.

Our Father? What? Jesus calls the King of kings and Lord of lords FATHER? Isn’t that a bit personal? Isn’t that reducing a transcendent God into a casual, ordinary being?

No, in actuality it was giving the disciples the greatest revelation of who God truly is and in doing so who they truly were. The following post is lengthy and in some places technical. It is necessary to get a deeper understanding of what it means for God to be Our Father. To know what it means to be a disciple and to disciple others.

“For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” This admission by Paul in reference to his relationship to Timothy may very well be the most powerful verse in the New Testament and holds the key to the Church.

Fatherhood.

Paul expressed to the struggling believers in Corinth that they do not lack in teachers. They lack fathers. The principle that Paul was expressing was in contrast to their thinking. The Greek way of thinking was based upon a teacher-student philosophy. The teacher can pontificate their ideas which will then spark ideas within the student. Ideas begat ideas. The teacher was merely the deepest thinker and would provide the original premise that other ideas could be built. Unfortunately, this is the practice that has been in place within Christendom for generations.

But Paul was showing them a Hebrew principle of Rabbi/talmidim (i.e. disciples). The rabbi acted more as a father than he did a teacher. He would take his learner under his wing and replicate himself. Much in the same way that fathers would take their sons to teach them a trade. Sadly, today, Paul’s words still ring true. He could very well be speaking directly to the modern church at large and say, “you have more than enough teachers, but you do not have many fathers”. We desperately need fathers in the Body of Christ.

Paul was a rabbi and understood Jesus better than any of the other disciples. Although the twelve spent three years with Jesus as talmidim they themselves were not formerly trained rabbis. This is an important point. Paul was from a wealthy family and was sent to the best school in Jerusalem; Bet Hillel, under Hillel’s grandson, Rabban Gamaliel haZaken. Paul would have started school at the age of 6. There are three stages that a person undertakes as a student of Torah. Why is this important? In order to understand what Paul meant by father you must understand this relationship.

There are three stages of learning to reach the level of rabbi; Bet Sefer, i.e. House of the Book (ages 6 – 12), Bet Talmud, i.e. House of Learning (ages 13 – 15), and Bet Midrash, i.e. House of Study (ages 15 – 30). Those in the latter stage were known as talmidim. Only a few students – the best of the best – were selected to advance from Bet Sefer to Bet Talmud. The same was true from Bet Talmud to Bet Midrash. Once a student had reached the level of Bet Midrash the relationship was completely different. The rabbi would invite the talmidim to follow him. This was a choice to leave your old life and “follow in the dust of the rabbi”. To follow a rabbi was to “be covered with the dust of his feet.” That represented how closely you followed. It was not a distant relationship. It was very up close and personal. The talmidim would spend the next several years emulating their rabbi. They would learn his way of interpreting the Torah. They would do what he did even down to the most smallest and minute details. They would learn his mannerisms. They would do and understand everything the exact same way as their rabbi. In turn the rabbi would father them through this process and take great care to ensure they grew into being a rabbi themselves. Now you understand why Jesus didn’t start his “ministry” until the age of 30.

Understanding this process helps us understand the relationship that Jesus had with His disciples and their relationship with Him. This is why Peter walked on water. Why the twelve and seventy were sent out to do what Jesus did. Why Jesus said they would do greater works. It also helps us understand what a disciple really is and the expectation of discipleship. Rabbis make disciples. The Great Commission was all about Jesus releasing His talmidim to be rabbis and go into all the world to replicate Him. However, He did not send them alone. He gave them the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. He gave them the Spirit of the Father.

Recently I read a study on the effect of fathers being absent from the home on children and in turn our nation as a whole. (http://canadianepc.org/files/McLanahan-Father-Absence.pdf) The results of this 10 year study was shocking and in many ways parallel the Church in America. Children that grow up without fathers have a higher rate of suicide, behavioral and psychological problems, poor grades, drop out of high school, drug and alcohol abuse, crime, juvenile and adult prison terms, early sexual activity, and teen pregnancies. It is shocking. The result of absent fathers have crippled America’s economy. Unless we focus on securing the family unit and bringing fathers back into the house the overwhelming snowball effect from generation to generation will lead to utter destruction. The same is true in our churches.

Within the past 30 years we have witnessed the increase of mega-churches within America. We have moved from a local church society to mega-church society. This is due to the increase of the Christian celebrity culture that has permeated the church through TBN, Daystar, and other Christian Broadcasters. These Networks have perpetuated the culture of teachers/ preachers that pour into us teaching without the responsibility of shepherding. This culture has affected the local church pastors to a great degree. They have focused on teaching/ preaching without the responsibility of shepherding. It becomes all too easy to seek one’s own fame and glory. The focus becomes a new revelation, whether cool and relevant or deep and spiritual, to set themselves apart from the crowd. It is the new Christian celebrity culture that is leaving behind a generation of fatherless children. A generation of orphans.

The result of a fatherless (orphan) generation of church attendees has been an increase of Biblical illiteracy, unsound doctrine, lack of understanding and operating in callings and giftings, spiritual flakiness, New Age interpretations, feelings of hopelessness and confusion, faithlessness, and unbelief in absolute truth. You can always tell someone is a Christian orphan because they do not receive love well. They are church consumers; hopping from one place to another, lacking stability. They treat Church like foster care rather than an eternal home. They are far too quick to judge and ready to walk out the door when the pastor forgot to say hello to them on Sunday morning. As a matter of fact, the list of orphan behavior is more accurately given by Paul in 2 Timothy chapter 3 verses 1 through 9. Within the context of 2 Timothy you will notice that Paul gives an antidote to this decline by commending Timothy for being faithful in following Paul’s teaching, conduct, aim in life, faith, patience, love, steadfastness, and persecutions. What is Paul talking about? He is referring to how he discipled (fathered) Timothy. In turn, Paul was encouraging Timothy to be a father and a rabbi to the next generation. We need to heed to Paul’s advice and let it ring loud and true to a new generation of pastors. We need fathers. We need shepherds. We need people that are willing to take under their wing spiritual children and disciple them the proper way.

Although we are immersed in a generation of fatherless children, God has sent the cure. God has promised that in the last days he would release the spirit of Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6). God will not leave us as orphans. He will raise up disciples in the generation of Elijah that “will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” We must cry out for this upon our local churches. We must cry out for fathers to rise up. The five-fold ministries are categories of fatherhood for the equipping and perfecting of the saints. If you are lost and hurting and trying to understand your calling and purpose I encourage you to seek out fathers. Seek out a rabbi that will cultivate the gifting and calling upon your life. There has been an absence of fathers and a decline of sons and daughters.

One last beautiful point. There is actually such deep revelation in understanding the rabbi/talmid relationship that we totally miss today. When Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, James and John, “come, follow me.” The Bible says that they dropped everything and followed Him. In our way of thinking this does not make sense. There must be more to it than that? He must have said more and the writers didn’t include it. Our logical mind tries to fill in the gap of understanding. The truth is, that is exactly what happened. To the 1st Century Jew it made PERFECT sense. It is actually a beautiful story and provides the reader lots of hope.

Allow me to explain. When a young Jewish child would complete the Bet Talmud stage (around the age of 14 to 15) he would ask a rabbi if he could join his House of Study (Bet Midrash). The rabbi would ask the potential student a series of questions to be able to know whether or not this student could become just like him. If he had the potential to become a rabbi. If selected the rabbi would say, “come, follow me” and the student would leave EVERYTHING to follow him. BUT, if the rabbi did not select him, he would tell the student to “go home, learn your family business, get married, have children, and hopefully they can grow up to become rabbis”.

So, now, with this in mind, read the gospel account again. Realize that Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the entire crew were likely rejected. They were not the best of the best. They were ordinary. Ha! Then Jesus came along. Yes! He did not choose the best of the best. He chose the ORDINARY! The rejected! The least! He said to them, “come, follow me” and they dropped everything! Their dreams came true. That had been chosen. Imagine the excitement. Imagine the thrill for Zebedee, James and John’s father. It was an honor for your son to be selected by a rabbi. What an exciting day!

The conclusion is this; be a disciple and go make disciples. What does that mean? As disciples (i.e. talmidim) we realize our great need of being fathered. To be under a mentor and shepherd. To have someone take the time to disciple us. Then, in turn, we disciple others. This is the Great Commision. It is the heart and DNA of Greenhouse Church. It is the cry of this generation that has lived as orphans far too long. Being a disciple that disciples others is not a suggestion. It is the heartbeat – and genius – of God. You will never feel closer to your Father in heaven than when you allow yourself to be fathered well and in turn father others in the gospel. Then your heart will freely cy out, “Abba, Father!”

(Much thanks to Shawn Maynard for these thoughts)

Pray for Baltimore.

Specific prayers get specific answers; general prayers get general answers. I suggest we get specific. Feel free to add your prayer below, but join us in calling out to God.

PRAY AGAINST: Fear. Divisiveness. Hatred. Racism. Hopelessness. Despair. Deception. Faithlessness. Injustice. Cynicism. Lawlessness. Lack of understanding. Arrogance. Violence. Racial caste systems. Class bias. Superficial treatment of systemic problems.

PRAY FOR: Love. Unity. Healing. Hope. Justice. Truth. Understanding. Discernment. Appropriate outrage. Willingness to listen. Wisdom for all in authority. Protection for those in the line of fire. Right voices to be heard. Actual change moving forward. Churches to come together. God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done in Baltimore as it is in heaven. Eyes to see the relevance and transformative power of the full gospel of Jesus.

God forbid that we only pray. And God forbid that we fail to pray.

Passion Week Wednesday

I’m fascinated with the way Jesus spends His final Wednesday before the cross. The week begins with him pouring himself out in ministry and teaching. The week will end as he pours out his very life and redeems the world. It’s hard to imagine a heavier load or a busier week.

And yet Wednesday is unique. For as many details as we have about every other day of the Passion week, Scripture is strangely silent about the happenings of this day.

He spent the day in Bethany.

Surely there were a million things that could be done, a thousand people who demanded attention, a score of sermons that could have been preached. And yet during these precious final hours leading up to a Passover supper and the ultimate Passover act, Jesus retires to Bethany. What is he doing? While I can’t be sure what he’s doing, I can certainly guess with whom he’s doing it, because whenever he made his way into that town Jesus seems to find time for one beloved family in particular. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5)

What a powerful thought. In his final moments of preparation before the injustice and intensity of the Passion, Jesus seems to spend the day in community. With the people he loves, and the people who love him. Lone rangers never work out, because we were made in the image of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We come alive in community because we are formed in the image of the God of community.

We have eight children, which means my offspring were not simply born in general, but into a family. The new birth that Jesus provides does not just create a new person, but a new family made up of people who have all had the same experience. And the same Daddy. Which is why we thrive in community and we wither in isolation.

Jesus is about to know loneliness like no human ever has. He is going to taste the isolation that no man or woman was ever meant to taste as he will pay the highest price. But not on Wednesday. Today he encounters community.

As we approach the explosive power of resurrection Sunday, I remind us to draw near to God and to draw near to each other. There is a world to reach and neighbors to invite and mission to accomplish. But amazing grace does more than save a wretch like me; it makes it’s sweetest sound through the harmonies of our community, not just the melody of my individuality.

Let’s go teach the world to sing.

[General view, Bethany, Holy Land, (i.e., West Bank)]

Passion Week Monday

blog - Holy Monday

It was Monday.

Yesterday we waved palm branches to exalt Him; on Friday we will lift up a cross to execute Him. Crucify Him, we will demand. Oh how fickle, how changeable we humans are. And yet, “from everlasting to everlasting You are God.” (Psalm 90:2)

This is very good news.

The same One who counted the cost in eternity and chose to take on flesh, is now counting the cost in time and choosing to endure till it is finished. And we need it to be finished.

But first.

There is a temple to cleanse and a fig tree to curse. There is a widow’s mite to admire and unbelief to rebuke. There are religious abusers to confront and disciples’ feet to be washed. And don’t forget all those red words. Few syllables in history carry the weight of these final words from this final week. Parables and prophecies, lamentations and lessons, woe and wonder.

God is speaking.

Are we listening?

(If you’re interested, Matthew 21-25 is a potent way to spend some of your attention Monday and Tuesday during this holy week.)

I read this thought today and all I could think about was Jesus on Passion Monday morning: “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) He knew His hours were numbered; He knew the Passover clock was counting down; He knew the Lamb had to be slain. Thus He numbered His days, He moved in wisdom, and He finished the task at hand.

So with an eye on the ticking clock of your life, and a humility to recognize we have no guarantees about tomorrow, I challenge us to ask God to teach us to number our days. Obviously this means wise people plan their work and work their plan; they don’t just wait for life to happen to them.  But it’s more eternal than that. There are lives to touch, there is love to spread, and there is a resurrection story that changes everything. As soon as it’s believed. Which only happens when they hear. Which only happens when it’s shared. Let’s go.

Thank God it’s Monday.