Halfway through my two weeks here in Birmingham for my Doctor of Ministry course, Biblical Theology for Ministry.  The class has been good, but today certainly marked the high water mark of the trip.

This morning, I visited the Church at Brook Hills.  Listening to David Platt speak was like listening to a kindred spirit.  Those of you who know my journey of redemption from church growth strategies and their subsequent pressures, will appreciate the story that David shared.   When he first became the pastor at Brook Hills, he poured through all of his church growth books which encouraged him and his team to pinpoint “Brook Hills Bob”, the emblem of their “target audience.”  The Brook Hills team rejected this kind of thinking and decided to go after “Brook Hills Burudi” – a non-Christian man living in a region of North Africa closed to to the Gospel.  I loved it when Platt added that he no longer reads those church growth books.  They are preaching and living the whole Gospel for the whole world – not just a target audience.  Now here’s what’s really cool.  As Platt told it, one of their Brook Hills Bobs, a typical upper middle class Birmingham businessman, and his wife,  started a small group two years ago because God was calling him to invest his life in other couples.  This morning in their worship service, they commissioned a young couple from that small group will be moving to a remote region of North Africa to plant a church for Brook Hills Burudi – all of those people who have never heard the Gospel.  This resonates so much with what I have sensed the Lord doing in me over the last 18 months – stepping away from all of that “cool church” jazz to just be the church, living in the world as a witness to Jesus Christ. 

On a side-note, I was amazed that probably 99% of the 2000 people I worshiped with this morning carried their Bibles into church!  Awesome, awesome!

Following worship, I went to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.  The museum was amazingly sobering.  The tour begins with exhibits describing life in Birmingham before the Civil Rights movement and then begins the Civil Rights struggle with Rosa Park’s and the Montgomery Bus boycott and follows it through the late 1960’s.  Two highlights of the museum for me. 

First, the exhibit on the Freedom Riders.  They have the burned out shell of an old grey hound bus (not sure if it is one actually involved in the ride, or not) and old footage of the freedom riders talking about what they did and why they did it.  I kept wondering if I would have had the chutzpa to have been one of them.  Only time would have told and only time will tell if I rise to those kinds of challenges in my own time.

Second, looking at two water fountains that were actually marked “white” and “colored” was mind-boggling.  It is hard to believe that this happened in an America not much older than my generation.

Walking down the street to go into the museum, I was just across the street from the famous 16th Street Baptist Church, which was very much at the center of the Civil Rights movement.  In September of 1963, the church was bombed and four little girls were killed in the bombing.  I also learned that on that same day, two African American boys, were also shot by white assailants in Birmingham while out riding their bikes.

While I am not a fan of many of President Obama’s policies, I gained a deeper appreciation for what his election means for our country – the healing of so many wounds – and why it is so momentous for so many of our fellow Americans.  I won’t add much more because, like I said, it was really very sobering.


A few people this past week made reference to the closing section of Sunday’s sermon.  I closed the series on the Apostle’s Creed with a section on the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Here’s that section:

Theologian J.I. Packer suggests that heaven may not be tilted toward either of those extremes.  Eternity is probably not an everlasting classical harp concert any more than it is an everlasting orgy.  Packer says this about life in the kingdom of heaven:

 What was said to the child (about heaven) – “If you want sweets and hamsters in heaven, they’ll be theer”’ – was not an evasion (of the question), but a witness to the truth that in heaven no felt needs or longings go unsatisfied.  What our wants will actually be, however, we hardly know, save that first and foremost we shall ‘always want to be with the Lord’ (I Thessalonians 4.17).[1]

 Packer also says this:

 What will be do in heaven?  Not lounge around, but worship, work, think and communicate, enjoying activity, beauty, people and God.  First and foremost, however, we shall see and love Jesus, our Savior, Master and Friend.[2]

 In other words, we will eternally grace the new creation in the same way that God intended us to grace this creation in the very beginning.  We will love God, because each one of us was created to walk with him.  We will work because each of us was created to tend to and care for the creation.  We will think grander thoughts of greater purity and capacity than any thoughts humanity has yet to think.  We will communicate with each other in a harmony that is free of anger and jealousy and “come-uppances”.  We will enjoy activity and beauty and other people for we were made to walk hand-in-hand with one another in the open-sun of the meadows and beneath the shade of the trees, to enjoy the songs of the birds, to lie down with both the lion and the lamb for naps in the cool of the afternoon.  And best of all, we were made to see him with our eyes, to hear him with our ears, to touch him with our hands and to be held in the embrace of Jesus everlastingly.

            Feeble though these words may be in their descriptive power of eternity, this is something of what it will mean to be resurrected in the body and to live everlastingly; to become the finishing touches that God designed you and me to be on that sixth day so very long ago.  We believe in finishing touches:  the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

[1] Packer, J.I., Affirming the Apostle’s Creed.  Crossway Books:  2008.  p. 148.

[2] Ibid, p. 146

One Day Delay

A busy day today . . . installment #4 of Great Expectations, GCF! will be coming tomorrow or possibly Monday of next week.

Sorry for the delay.

A few Sundays back, while I was eating a bagel, smeared with low-fat PB and sugar-free jam, the pastor of another local church, whose services are televised, made this statement to the church in a very gentle and humble way.  “We want you to be well.  We want you to be healed.  We want you to have an abundant life in Jesus Christ.”

His statement brings us to a fourth expectation for GCF:  EXPECT to be healed.

In Matthew 4.24 we find these words, “News about him spread throughout Syria and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases . . . and he healed them.”  Matthew 8.1-9.34 recounts several amazing stories where Jesus takes authority over illness and the forces of nature.  Obviously, healing was an integral part of Jesus’ ministry.

Because Jesus, according to the Great Commission, confers upon us something of his authority, we should not doubt that God intends for the community of his followers (the church) to be a place of healing.

We tend to focus on two types of healing.

First, there are physical healings.  Quite often, the church is more than prepared to be the recipients of this type of healing.  When beloved friends within the church are made well or recover successfully from illness, we are quick to give God thanks for his healing powers. 

Within traditions that emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about manifestations of God’s coming kingdom, there is usually a strong emphasis on God’s ability to heal instantaneously.  This belief is shared by charismatic traditions, such as ours, and by liturgical traditions, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Episcopalean churches.

We expect that God will bring about physical healings when those healings will be for his glory and will hasten the coming of his Kingdom.

On a second frontier, there is emotional healing.  It is this kind of healing that the Pastor, mentioned earlier, was referring to when he was talking to his congregation.  Churches are usually not prepared for emotional healing because it tends to be a messier, stickier and more time-consuming process.

In an age when people flock to therapists (which is not a bad thing – I am trained as one, after all), turn self-help books into New York Times best sellers, and make programs like Dr. Phil and Oprah day-time hits in the Nielsen ratings, the church has an important word to speak to the greater culture about emotional healing.  That word?  That healing comes when we are no longer focused on the extent of our wounds but are focused instead upon the healing that flows from the wounds of Jesus Christ and the wholeness that might be ours through his resurrection.

There is no emotional healing that is complete apart from eyes and ears that are turned toward and tuned into Jesus.

Andrew Comiskey – a great writer in the area of emotional brokenness and healing – notes the following steps toward healing in his book Strength in Weakness.  After outlining these steps, I want to suggest how the community of Jesus’ followers (the church) can facilitate such a process and become a body where emotional healing is not the exception, but the rule because people are focused on Jesus.

Comiskey’s Steps:  (1) Take time to acknowledge our wounding, (2) Seek out safe people who can help bear our burdens, (3) Feel freely, (4) Take authority over wordly sorrow that brings death and refuse the invitation of hopelessness, (5) excercise the power of the resurrection by forgiving our wounders.

How the church can facilitate these steps so that we can expect emotional healing:

Challenge people to see their woundedness.  OK, as a counselor I have sat with more than one person who could never see beyond the end of his or her own nose.  Whether legitimately or illegitmately, these people were so wrapped up in their own woundedness that they were unbearable and draining on almost everyone with whom they came into contact.  There are plenty of these folks out there, but they are usually the exception.

Instead, most people forsake their woundedness by ignoring it or covering it up.  This is quite common in churches.  We become so focused on spiritual disciplines or goals for church growth or accomplishing “things” for the kingdom of God that we never allow the healing power of Jesus Christ to actually touch our wounds in such a way that we can become as-complete-as-possible bearers of his image in the world.  This is sad because, as those called to bear his image, we end of robbing the world of the fullness of his presence.

The church can first become a place of emotional healing by doing what Jesus did:  challenging religious folks to give up the quest for religious perfection and see the wounded and sinful creatures that we are when we do not know the full measure of his grace.

Be a community of “safe” people.  While praying yesterday, the Lord impressed upon my heart Psalm 101.1-6.  I memorized those verses.  At one point, Psalm 101 finds David saying this, “Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, I will put to silence.”  Obviously, an important step in becoming a community of “safe” people is to make sure that we do not gossip and that we put to silence those within the church who do gossip.

Being a community of safe people also requires humility.  The great preacher Haddon Robinson occasionally begins some of his sermons by praying, “Lord, if these people knew what was really in my heart, they would not listen to a word I have to say.”  Being a community of safe people means realizing that those who are wounded are no greater, nor any less a sinner than we are.  When we understand the depths of our own sin and the expanse of God’s grace and salvation, we can truly help another person bear his wounds into the presence of the One whose wounds bring our healing.

Feel Feelings.  Tullian Tchividjian in his book Unfashionable notes that the church must learn to be angry at the evil works of the enemy in the world.  Too often, the church has been silent while both injustice and unrighteousness have been perpetrated in the world.  And when the Christian community has become angry, it has usually been anger focused on a person or a group of people; not at the greater problem of evil.

Tchividjian is right in telling us that the church needs to shed more tears of sorrow, of mourning, of frustration, and of anger about brokenness in this world.  We need to see this world through God’s eyes and we need to become conduits of the Father’s emotions for this world  in this world.

When the church learns to feel pain and sorrow, grief and agony, heartache and anger at the enemy’s work in the world, then those who see our emotions will learn that they too can begin the journey of pain and sorrow, grief and agony, heartache and anger that will set them on the journey of emotional healing.

Be a Sign of Hopefulness.  The church must be a marker of hope in the midst of a world of despair.  There are three practices of the church that make us such a marker.

First, we are to care for one another.  Providing meals for others church members during a time of need is one example.  But doing this outside of our body is also important.  Projects like GCF’s Backpack and Snacks where we provide weekend meals for children who may not get any square meals between lunch on Friday and breakfast on Monday morning is yet another way for us to be a marker of hopefulness in a world of despair.  By caring for one another, we exercise the power God has given us to take authority over hopelessness.  Beyond meals, we can pray for one another, listen to one another, and help one another in a myriad of ways. 

Second, we can call the world to be focused on the hope that is ours through Jesus Christ.  The message of the church must always be one of a hope that can personally belong to each and every person through the death, resurrection and the coming return of Jesus Christ.

Third, we can teach people how to take spiritual authority over their hopelessness.  The war against hopelessness must be waged in the spiritual and emotional realm as well as the physical realm and the Bible offers ample teachings on waging that war in both spheres.

Be an Example of Forgiveness.  Within the community of Jesus’ followers (the church) there is plenty of room for people to wound one another.  The church is, afterall, not only a place where God wants us to learn how to receive his grace, but also how to give his grace to others.  When we model forgiveness and perserverance in the midst of the woundedness that takes place within the body of Christ, we are making room for people to learn to forgive – over time – those who have wounded them.  And the forgiveness that they learn to show will not be the forgiveness modeled by five steps in a self-help book, but will be the very forgiveness of Jesus Christ that has the power to turn the old and the decaying into the new and the eternal!

It’s a great expectation, GCF:  expect healing!

I began this series of blog posts yesterday with a look at the first part of the Great Commission.  From the command to “go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we discerned two great expectations for GCF.

The first:  expect God to use GCF to challenge people to a real conversion that leads to a life of passionately loving him.  The second:  expect God to challenge you to a radical commitment to God’s people:  the church.

Today, I want to pick up on the second part of the Great Commission:  “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

We’ll break the discussion of this portion of the commandment into three parts.

First, there is the content of Jesus’ teaching.  When the disciples first heard this command, their minds must have sifted back through all the times they had spent listening to Jesus teach them and teach the crowds.  Passages like the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus’ ministry instructions to his disciples (Matthew 10) and Jesus’ parables (scattered throughout Matthew 18-26) would certainly have come to mind. 

We also know that the content of Jesus’ teaching, along with his teaching style, were extraordinary.  Having grown quite tired of the lofty and oppressive platitudes of the religious leaders, the crowds are so refreshed by Jesus’ teaching that Matthew tells us “the crowds were astonished at his teaching for he was teaching as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7.28-29).  “Ouch” for the their teachers.

If you read Jesus’ teachings in Matthew closely and specifically in the Sermon on the Mount, you will notice that Jesus had a vast knowledge of the Old Testament; the Bible of his day.  Jesus even tells us, in the Sermon on the Mount, that he has come not to abolish God’s law (being the Old Testament) but to fulfill it.

Observing that which Jesus commanded us to do means observing all that we have been taught in scripture.  Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is the content of Jesus’ teaching.

As we think about scripture as the content of Jesus’ teaching we must be careful to avoid what Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, calls our culture’s almost automatic disassociation of Jesus from anything that could be considered, or even construed as either brilliant or intellectual.  Willard goes on to add, “If this is how he seems to you, are you going to be inclined to become his student?  Of course not.”

Observing all that Jesus commanded to his disciples means that we must become not only a student of scripture, but a student of the Bible under Jesus’ tutelage and guidance.  If we think Jesus to be a no-nothing bumpkin who roamed around a third-class country some 2000 years ago then we will have little incentive to be his students.  On the other hand, if we recognize him to be who he is:  the exceptionally brilliant Son of the Most High God, then we will come to understand that being a student of the content of his teaching and his exposition of that teaching is a privilege that only an idiot would pass up.

Secondly, we are suffering from the collapse of the Christian Catechesis.  Big words, huh?  Let me explain it.  Catechesis is a Latin word that means “to sound down”.  Christian catechesis, then, is the teaching of Scripture and doctrine not only to children and youth, but to all of Jesus’ followers; no matter how old or young they are. 

In their book Resurrecting Excellence L. Gregory Jones and Kevin Armstrong note that one of the biggest difficulties facing Bible Colleges, Christian colleges, seminaries and other institutions of ministry training is the fact that God is calling his followers into ministry but they are arriving at their institutions of ministry training without even a basic, rudimentary knowledge of the Bible or Christian doctrine. 

This is, as Jones and Armstrong point out, a huge failure on the part of the church and it means that the full-time Christian servants that are returned to the church or the mission field out of those institutions are not as well-prepared as they should be to lead others in observing all that Jesus commanded.

There is only one solution.  The church must recover catechesis.  We must be serious about the training of our children, our youth, new converts and even seasoned followers in the ever-deeper ways of the faith.  About three months ago, we started a new team at GCF, the Discipleship Team, to help us begin focusing on this area of the life of our body.

We must be well-trained in scripture if we are to observe all that Jesus commanded us to observe and that will take more than an hour and a half on Sunday mornings.  It is a process that requires broad planning across the life of our church to give Biblical, doctrinal and spiritual instruction in our Community Groups, Study Groups and even in the midst of our personal times of prayer and reflection with the Lord. 

Tullian Tchvidjian, grandson of Billy Graham, founder of New City Church and now the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church writes this in his book Unfashionable:  “Nowhere does the Bible say the Christian faith is private, partial, and compartmentalized.  On the contrary, the Christian faith is public, pervasive and complete.”  God wants GCF unified together in a process of learning to observe all that he has commanded us.

Finally, we must heed the call of Christ to live Biblically.  Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the world.  Salt is a preservative and light dispels darkness.  Our role in the world is to preserve it; to be a voice calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  Our role in the world is to call out the darkness where it exists by shining the light of Jesus Christ onto the darkness.  We cannot do this without observing all that Jesus has commanded us to do.

Another quote from Tchividjian’s book Unfashionable:

This epidemic of professing Christians ignoring the Bible has led theologian Michael Horton to ask if churches are guilty of secularizing America.  Christians are quick, he notes, to “launch public protests against ‘secular humanists’ for diminishing the role of God in American society’, yet ‘the more likely source of secularization is the church itself.’  Our first concern should not be that God is treated so flippantly in American culture but that he is not taken seriously in our own churches.  As Pogo famously said, ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.'”

We have seen the impact of a Biblically ignorant (for we have far exceeded Biblical illiteracy) on our greater culture.  A Biblically ignorant church is an impotent church.  Now it is time to witness the impact of a Biblically intelligent church upon the greater culture.  A Biblically intelligent church is a church that is filled with God’s power as it observes all that Jesus commanded.

Great expectation # 3 for GCF (or any other church, for that matter):  Expect to be trained in the ways of the Bible and the Christian tradition and expect to be expected to observe all that Jesus commanded of his followers.

A couple of questions to think about today . . .

1.  Do you intentionally memorize scripture?

2.  Do you regularly read the Bible expecting God to call you to change something in your life or the way you are treating someone else?

3.  Do you spend time with other believers studying God’s word and learning how to apply it to your life?

This morning I begin two weeks of posts (for a total of ten posts) in which I am going to try to pull together some thoughts on what expectations should exist for Great Commission Fellowship (or any local church, for that matter)

During the first week, I want to focus on what you and I can and should expect from GCF as members and attenders.  In the second week, I will explore what the community and the world around us should expect from GCF.

Since we are Great Commission Fellowship, the first two posts in this series will break down the two main components of the Great Commission to discern what you can expect from GCF based on the Bible passage for which we are a namesake.

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . –Matthew 28.18-19.

The first component of the Commission focuses on baptism.

We understand baptism in two ways.  First, baptism is the seal of the work of grace that God has done in our hearts in revealing to us our salvation through Jesus.  In other words, baptism takes place as a sign and marker that we have, as Paul says it in Romans, “confessed with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believed in our hearts that God raised him from the dead.”

This confession and believing in Jesus Christ, which is a work of God’s grace in our lives, is also called conversion.  The first of our Great Expectations from GCF should be conversion.  We should expect that God wants to use GCF to bring about a great change in our lives that leaves us matchlessly in love with Jesus Christ.  So in love, in fact, that the rest of our lives will be shaped and molded around loving and being loved by him.

Pete Hise is the Lead Pastor of Quest Community Church in Lexington, KY.  Being that Quest has grown from zero to over 3000 members in just under 10 years, they are often the receiving end of a lot of criticism from a lot of people.  Perhaps some of it is deserved.

 A couple of years ago when I first met Pete Hise, he was sharing with me what he considered to be the most important lesson God had revealed to him in the early days of his time with Quest. 

Pete had learned that ministry here in the Bible Belt was quite different than ministry in New York or other largely “unchurched” regions of the nation.   In those largely unchurched areas, people know that they do not know Jesus.  But here, in the Bible belt, Pete discovered that people think that they know Jesus but what they actually know are the external dynamics that have been used to define the stereotypical “good Christian”. 

Knowing the external standards for being a good Christian and knowing Jesus Christ, as Pete Hise points out, are two very different things.  Pete began calling for Christians to actually discover the person of Jesus Christ.

Say what you will about Pete Hise and Quest Community Church, but I have discovered Pete’s realization to be all-too-true truth in my time as the Lead Pastor of GCF. 

Certainly more than once – in fact more times than I could count – I have sat with college students, seminary students or people who have grown up in the church to find that they are beating themselves over the head because they have a constant sense of “failure” as they try to live up to the external standards of the “good Christian”.  Frustrated with their efforts, they settle for what we might call being “the good-enough Christian” which usually results in some combination of luke-warm church attendance and tepid obedience to what they perceive to be the all-too-hard commands of scripture.

In his classic book, Conversion, the great evangelist and missionary E. Stanley Jones, quotes the great writer H.G. Wells from his deathbed:  “A frightful queerness has come into life.  Hitherto events have been held together by a certain logical consistency as the heavenly bodies have been held together by the golden cord of gravitation.  Now it is as if that cord had vanished and everything is driven anyhow, anywhere, at a steadily increasing velocity.  The writer is convinced that there is no way out or around, or through the impasse.  It is the end.”

Such were the dying sentiments of a man who had always trusted the “logical consistency” of the universe.  Make no mistake about it, the end result of efforts to be a “good Christian” or a “good-enough Christian” are not much different than the end result that H.G. Wells discovered from his trust in the “logical consistency” of the universe.

What is needed, as E. Stanley Jones notes, is conversion:  a radical, life-changing experience with the living person of Jesus Christ!

Expect this from GCF:   to be called to a radical encounter with Jesus Christ that “converts” the rest of you life from one of working and striving to be a good person or a “good-enough Christian” which leads only to hopelessness and despair TO a life that is filled with, as the United Methodist liturgy for baptism says, “a joyful obedience” to a living  and loving Lord who gives you the awesome assurance of an eternal life and the power and will to live an abundant life of love in Him.

There is also a second understanding of baptism that gives rise to an addendum to this first expectation.  We understand baptism to be an initiation rite into the community of God’s called and set-apart people; also known as the church!  A part of the radical nature of conversion is that it joins us to a new people.  These new people are nothing less than the old people who have been made new through God’s conversion of their hearts and lives to Jesus Christ.  For these “old-people-made-God’s-new-people” there is a radical joining together as one people.

We see this radical joining-together displayed in what we call local churches.  GCF is a local church.

Not only should we expect GCF to call us to a radical conversion to Jesus Christ, but also to a radical commitment to God’s new-creation-people, which is his Church; of which GCF is a part.

Here a couple of questions to ponder . . .

1.  Which more accurately describes your life as a Christian:  working to be “good-enough” for God OR joyfully following Jesus where ever he calls you to go?

2.  What does a radical commitment to God’s new-creation people look like?

Well, night 1 of our Spring Into Missions weekend has come and gone.

We started tonight with FaceDown Prayer and Worship.  The worship was amazing AND we really sought God’s face for the missionaries we were praying for.  Thanks to Rochelle and Vince for putting tonight together.  It was awesome.

The Lord hit me with I Peter 4.1-12 as a text to be spoken over and prayed for our missionaries tonight.  There are a couple of verses that I will be memorizing.

I have the goat meat in my fridge.  I’ll be preparing it tomorrow night . . . we’re just a little over 36 hours away from the international potluck on Sunday!

See ya’ll tomorrow night for the Coffee House – 6.30pm.