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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.

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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

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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!

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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?

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As I was traveling over the weekend I listened to a few sermons from a wide variety of pastors:  Charles Stanley, Jon Weece (Southland Christian Church) and Mark Driscoll.

Driscoll had an excellent sermon on the Cross from his doctrine series – if you don’t mind the fact that he used the phrase “I don’t give a damn” in the sermon 🙂

When I got home, I took a look at Driscoll’s blog and ended up linking to a whole train of posts in response to a speech about “manly” preachers that Driscoll gave at a conference (probably more than one) some time ago.  Depending on what you think about the legitimacy of the blogs, Driscoll was trying to be funny OR was way over the top.

No matter.  If you are reading this blog to find a critique of Mark Driscoll, Mark Batterson or any other megachurch pastor, you’ll have to go elsewhere.  I’ve long sinced learned that the “most read” blogs that I write will always be those that mention the name of a megachurch or its pastor!

Driscoll, Batterson, Perry Noble, Ed Young and others are all gifted leaders.  God has used them to accomplish some awesome things and – like ALL of us – they remain imperfect and sometimes over-the-top.  My grandmother, if she were alive and listened to some of their sermons, would note that they are also occasionally full of themselves which she also sometimes said about me!

This post is intended to encourage us to consider whether or not God has called us to be who we are in Jesus Christ or whether or not God has called us to be who Mark Driscoll, Batterson, Noble or Young are in Jesus Christ.

God smacked me in the face with this thought in the car on the way home Saturday.  I began to feel the pressure to do things in the same way that these guys do them so that I can be successful, so that I can be a good leader, so that, so that, so that . . .

But I am not them.  I am Jason and God wants me to be me – in Jesus!  I can’t be who these other guys are in Jesus.

Jesus works in me to give me gifts, to give me leadership and to call me to obedience in my life, my family, my church and my community.  The one thing that we all have in common with these mega-church guys (or at least should have in common) is a passion for Jesus Christ and the expansion of his Kingdom! 

But in that passionate pursuit of Jesus and his kingdom, we will discover that Jesus does not call us to be Driscoll, Batterson, Noble or Young, but intead he calls us to be us – in him!  And there is no one more or less that I can be than the me I am in Jesus.  And the me that I am in Jesus is the best person I can be for my family, my church, my community and the Kingdom of God.

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The discipleship team at GCF recently decided that during the Easter Season (between yesterday and Pentecost Sunday at the end of May) that we would focus on joy as a church-wide theme.

I just finished doing a bit of searching at Amazon.com to find out what books on joy are floating around out in the world.  After parousing several pages at Amazon, I was horrified to find that I turned up at least 20 books on the topic of joy written by Buddhists or followers of other eastern religions.  There were also a large number of books on joy written by pop-culture, post-modern spiritual gurus.  I found only 3 books on joy by Christian writers.  One was a book that described the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy as a tool for discovering joy.  On May 1 of this year, Calvin Miller will release a book on joy in his “fruits of the spirit” series and, of course, there was C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy which is an autobiographical book of his early spiritual journey into the Christian faith.

Something is wrong here.

While working with Uday, our worship pastor at GCF, last week to pick out a few hymns for the Wilmore Community Sunrise Service, I came across a hymn I could remember from my kid-hood days:  Easter People Raise Your Voices.  Shouldn’t there be more than 3 joy-exploring books written by a group that refers to itself as “Easter People”?

As of yet, I don’t know how our teachings over the next several Sundays will explore joy or where they’ll go, but I think we owe it to ourselves and to our Lord to get the joy out.

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At our Monday staff meeting at GCF we were looking at some responses to a survey about what people were experiencing during worship this past Sunday.  One member of the staff asked, “what do we expect to happen in worship?”

This lead to a lengthy discussion in the meeting that became a long train of thought for me throughout the next 24 hours.  For fear of using too much theological jargon, I began to search for an analogy or metaphor that would help ground my expectations for worship.  When pressed too far, all analogies or metaphors fall apart, so don’t press this one too far.  Just let it be what it is.

I like to think of GCF as a team of people who go out into the world every week to do ministry in the name of Jesus.  Since we are a team representing the Kingdom of God in the world, perhaps we could think of our Sunday worship gatherings as the half-time locker room meeting.

What goes on in a half-time locker room meeting?  Four things . . .

First, the team gets refocused or increases its focus on the main thing.  The main thing for the team is winning.  The main thing for GCF is putting our focus on the grace, glory and power of God.  Singing, scripture reading, times for reflection, times for prayer, teaching, the offering and even announcements all call us to set aside whatever else is going on in life so that we can focus on who God is, what he has done, what he is doing, and what he is calling us to do.

Second, the team focuses on what it is doing well.  If there have been some great play calls or some excellent rushing then those things are highlighted.  The good work that the team is doing is accentuated.  Worship gatherings on Sundays give us a chance to look at what God is doing so well right in our own lives.  We saw this so clearly on Sunday as one GCF’er shared how God had been at work in her life during her two month stay at a Chinese orphanage last summer.  It was also very evident this past Sunday as another GCF’er shared about what God was doing to keep her hope alive during some difficult times.

Third, the team will make some readjustments.  It is unlikely that all things have been perfect in the first half, so the coach will point out some areas where some things need to be adjusted a bit.  One of our surveys from Sunday noted that the lyrics of the song Inside Out had been particularly meaningful, causing him/her to ask some questions about the shape of his/her own interior life.  Worship helps us make the adjustments that prepare us to better embody God’s kingdom in the world when we leave.  Teachings also help us do this.  The second of two application questions in Sunday’s teaching asked us to consider whether or not we are more familiar with the language of complaining or the language of hope?  Making an adjustment to speaking the language of hope in Christ rather than complaining is another way to “adjust” to better embodying God’s kingdom in the world.

Fourth, the half-time meeting is about energizing the team for the next round.  Having focused on readjustments, positives and the main thing, the team is energized to head back to the field for the second half.  Of course, the whole worship experience contributes to this, but our closing song(s) at GCF come to mind because they are intended to get our blood pumping to go back into the world to carry the victorious, life-giving, freedom-creating good news of Jesus to a lot of people who need to know it, touch it and claim it as their own.

One last thought . . . what goes in the half-time gathering has a lot to do with what went on in the first half.  Everything, and I mean absolutely everything, that happened is fair game for discussion at half time.  And this means that there is some preparation that each of us have to do – as individuals – when we come into our half-time worship gathering.  We’ve got to be prepared to lay everything on the table so that nothing is standing in the way of focusing on the main thing so that God can give us some guidance about what we are doing well, where need to make some minor or major adjustments, and get us energized to go back into the world in his name.

As you think about our worship gathering this Sunday, will you be ready to lay everything on the table?

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