Monday, October 31, 2005

Some Quick Notes on the Weekend

I closed the final door on my own experience 25 years ago. I had never named my child, nor had I ever really given him an identity or let him go. I was able to do that this weekend, and God radically changed my heart. I can now believe David Louis is with the Lord.

There were 4 ladies and a young, teenage girl there this weekend. I must be careful how I write about the weekend so as not to disclose any details that might break confidentiality. Suffice it to say that there was one salvation experience, and I saw her changed radically this weekend. Also the other ladies there were able to deal with grief that had been bottled up for so long. More than one woman admitted they had never been able to talk to anyone about thier experience before.

I guess what I'm going to focus my weekend experience on is what happened in my life. For right now, I am tired...but it's a good tired. I'm going to take it easy today, and if I feel like it, later todayI'll write down some things I started or did over the weekend.

My hope is that men will hear this message, and find hope in the realization that they can grieve also.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Abortion Recovery Process and God's Grace

This weekend, beginning this afternoon, and going through Sunday evening, Linda and I will be leading an abortion recovery weekend for some ladies through Rachel's Vineyard. I am going as a minister, so my role will be more for spiritual support. Linda is the leader/facilitator, and we have a counselor and two others on the team. I'm looking forward to what God will do in the lives of all that will be attending, including the team. I'll share a little about my own experience in this area.

25 years ago, I took part in a decision that separated me from the life of my unborn son. I can only imagine what type of young man he would be today. Sometimes when I mow the lawn or am doing work around the house, or on my car, I think how much I miss not having him here next to me, helping me, telling me about his day, learning from me, sharing jokes, or telling me his plans. The decision for abortion didn't seem like much of a 'choice' at the time. It seemed like there was no other choice. We were pressured by the doctor, society's view at the time, and the fact that we weren't married. It seemed like such an easy thing to do at the time, and I had no idea how it would impact my life for years to come.

I lived with this silence for the next 16 or 17 years. There were many manifestations of my shame and guilt, mainly in the way I related to women and even other children. I could never get close to my daughter, who was a year younger than what my son would have been. Even though I loved her so deeply, there was a part of me that could just not let her in too close to me. How I wish I could have dealt with the grief and shame earlier in my life. Abortion recovery is not really talked about openly in most churches. Even though the subject of abortion is sometimes addressed in churches, it is usually brought up in the context of sin to be avoided, not something of the past to be dealt with. I'm afraid many pastors or congregations are not really equipped with the understanding or sensitivity to deal with post-abortion recovery, especially when it comes to men.

We can all relate to why a woman who chose abortion would need to deal with that decision at some point in her life. Certainly, any woman who would carry her baby to full term, and then lose it suddenly would be looked on with compassion and be recommended for counseling. And even worse, if a woman gave birth to her baby, and then purposely ended its life, she would be looked at as evil, sinful, and judged by society, the church, and the law. But because ending a life while still in the womb is 'legal' under U.S. law, that 'choice' can be made in secret, and it is between a woman, her doctor, and only those who she shares it with. Many women live with shame and guilt, in silence; grieving alone, and dealing (or not dealing) with the loss of her child. It is an awesome burden, and for some, one too great to bear alone.

One thing we tend to conveniently forget, though: for every woman who terminates a pregnancy, there is a man involved too. Until a few years ago, I never thought about that impact on my life, my decision-making process, or my inability to be emotionally or spiritually intimate with my wife and daughter. Even more of a disconnect was evident with my 2 step-sons. Today I can look back and see a pattern of self-destructive behavior and sin that was directly related to my part of a 'choice' that was made in ignorance.

in 1997 I met Steve, and together we met weekly for several months to walk me through the beginnings of a painful process of healing and restoration of a very damaged and shame-filled heart. Over those weeks, I began to see how my 'choice' influenced many of the other decisions I made, especially when it involved women and children. Over the years that followed, I realized there were many other things I needed to deal with, and even today, I continue to have new revelations. The healing process is a long and sometimes painful journey. I haven't 'arrived' yet.

I'm not through sinning or making bad decisions, but now the process of recovering from those decisions is shorter, and I tend to not be so easily influenced by things I know will have long-term or fatal consequences. Every day presents new challenges. At the beginning of this year, I had a profound revelation of how short my life is. As I continue this process of healing and discovery, I am comforted by a very merciful and forgiving Father. His grace is what gets me through, and allows me to be changed, on day at a time.

Pray for us this weekend, especially for the women who are just beginning the journey toward recovery; and also for those of us who are seeking an even deeper healing, and a closer, more intimate walk with God.

[One woman's story] from the blog "Transitions"
[Another blogger writing on abortion] from the blog "JivinJehoshaphat"
[After Abortion] blog

Friday, October 21, 2005

What Do I Want From Church?

I read an article posted by one of my favorite bloggers, “From the Morning,” He spoke about the “Emerging Church,” and expressed an attitude that has been creeping through the institutional church for quite a few years, but only recently has begun to get noticed and written about. “From the Morning” makes the statement,

“I've realized something about 'church': I'm not interested.”
read the rest of it here

George Barna’s new book, Revolution, not yet in print, addresses this phenomenon that is sweeping Christianity and radically changing the face of the church in America today. He specifically addresses some of the frustrations and shortfalls the church is currently facing today. Chapter 4, titled, “How is the local church doing?” looks at the condition of the 77 million churched, born-again Christians in America. Some of the points he makes:
  • Worship – the bi-weekly attendance at worship services is, by believer’s own admission, generally the only time they worship God. 8 out of 10 believers do not feel they’ve entered into the presence of God or feel they’ve experienced a connection with Him during the typical worship service. In fact, half of all believers do not feel like they’ve entered into the presence of God or experienced a genuine connection with Him during the past year.
  • Faith-based conversations – the typical churched believer will die without ever leading even a single person to a life-saving knowledge of or relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • Servanthood – In a typical week, only 1 out of 4 will allocate any time to serving other people. In fact, most of that time is dedicated to volunteering in church programs that serve fellow congregants. Little time is invested in serving needy people outside of the congregation.
  • Spiritual friendships – Fewer than 1 out of 6 believers have a relationship with another believer through which true spiritual accountability is provided. The most significant influence on the choices of churched believers is neither the teachings from the pulpit nor advice gleaned from fellow congregants; it turns out to be the messages absorbed from the media, from the law and from family members.
From personal observation, I have seen little that is attractive about the church to someone outside the church. In fact, there is little about the church that is attractive to many believers. Many churched believers blend into their surroundings without ever giving a clue of their faith, or giving any hope to the lost. Even worse, some churched believers are better at back-stabbing, gossiping, and intolerance than non-churched people. I have been routinely and rudely cut-off or passed on the highway by someone with a fish on their bumper going 90 mph.

So what is it about the church? So many believers are burned out with activities and programs that take their nights and weekends. Sermons are “the same-old, same-old,” and church budgets are stretched because of building payments, overhead, and salaries. There is little left for benevolence and helping the communities they occupy. “Praise and worship” time becomes more of a production rather than a time of joy and giving to God.

We tend to forget that our motivation for corporate worship is not so that we are the primary beneficiaries, but so that God and God alone would be the primary beneficiary of our worship. That means HE must benefit from our time of worship. HE must be the recipient of our praise; HE must be the focus of our teaching and our anticipation. That one little paradigm shift will make a wholesale change in our relationships, fellowship, worship, and allow the sermons (and the rest of church 'business') to take on a whole new meaning.

Whether we meet in a mega-church with thousands or in a home with a smaller body of believers/worshippers, if the focus is on what we can benefit from church, we'll eventually walk away empty and frustrated. We've been meeting exclusively in homes for 14 years, and our services, as intimate as we'd like to believe they are, can be just as dry and empty when we take our eyes off the real reason for being there. If we want our "church" experience to change, we need to change our focus.

Acts 1:14 gives us the setting in the "upper room" right before the Holy Spirit blew in. "They all joined together constantly in prayer..." There were 120 believers upstairs, all anticipating and waiting for the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Jesus said would come "in a few days". (ch 1:4-5) I don't think they were in a 10:00 a.m. Sunday service with a flow chart that read,

Opening Prayer
New Visitors
Baby Dedication
Praise and Worship
Elder's Prayer at the Altar Rails
Peter's Sermon
Discussion and Drawing of Lots to Fill Judas's Vacancy
Usher in Holy Spirit...

No, they were in communion with God, praying, and waiting for the gift God had promised. A supernatural, spontaneous thing happened because they were waiting on God. The order of the service was not scripted, planned, or on a flow chart. The 120 were waiting in anticipation of what God promised he was going to do. Had they had their sights set on the temporal issues (i.e., the order of the service), they might have missed the whole thing. In the flow chart, Peter's sermon and the discussion and drawing lots is found in Acts 1:15-26. I threw in the other stuff because that's what we do at church. Having been part of the institutional church leadership for years, and having written plenty of flow charts and directed many services and meetings, I can personally attest to the fact that many, if not most services could be totally void of the Spirit of God and continue to flow anyway.

Barna said, “It’s interesting that the bible neither describes nor promotes the local church as we know it today. The order of the services, its programs, offices, buildings and ceremonies is neither biblical nor unbiblical. It is 'a-biblical'.” The scriptures mention nothing about the type of institution we traditionally refer to as "the church." I am not just slamming institutional churches. Our non-traditional, small home groups can be just as traditional by focusing inward and people coming to church with the attitude of "what will church do for me, who is there, how is the music?" Although there is a certain intimacy in a small group setting, meeting in someone's living room or at the lake doesn't make the church any more spiritual if the meeting is not intended to reach out and make a connection with God.

Please hear me out. I have been to many services where the move of God was quite evident, peoples' lives (including my own) were changed and victories were won. It was in the "institutional" church where I answered an altar call, made a profession of faith and grew in an understanding of Jesus Christ. It was the teachings I received from my pastor and many evangelists that strengthened my faith and caused me to grow. But overall, the condition and effectiveness of the church has been diminished by our need for organization, tradition, relationships, and programs that are designed mainly for the benefit of the membership.

I am not talking about avoiding structure or relationships. Again, my point is that the focus of corporate worship, meetings, sermons, etc is to make God the primary beneficiary. Community and relationship with each other should be a secondary product of our relationship with God.

Here’s what people get burned out on... self-centered, inward-focused churches that have no life and don't grow, and churches that are totally centered on the ministry of the pastor, the denomination, or a doctrine. While the church should teach sound doctrine for the purpose of facilitating our worship and relationship with God, doctrine should not be the focus; otherwise we are in danger of error, idolatry, or legalism. A church that is out of focus can also foster a high predisposition toward spiritual abuse.

There is a new move afoot, because people are seeking more from their relationship with God, not their church experiences. People are seeking a real understanding and knowledge of a living God that is fresh and full of hope. The image of a stoic Jesus and a disconnected, judgmental God is simply not the answer. A list of “thou shalt not’s” is not attractive. And the churchy, Christianese-speaking, born-again bible thumpers are what so many are running from and want to avoid becoming.

Ceremony, religious acts, and multi-million dollar complexes are not filling the voids that are in people’s souls. Only a real, life-giving and hope filled relationship that offers grace, forgiveness and healing will do. The church is not the hope of the world. God is.

OK, where is the stake, and who’s going to light the fire?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Letter From Satan

A friend of mine, John Esters, sent this to me today. I wanted to share it with those of you who read this blog regularly. It’s funny, in a creepy kind of way. The problem, though is, it really would be funny if it weren’t true. Thanks, John, for always keeping me on my toes.


Dear Son,
I saw you yesterday as you began your daily chores. You awoke without kneeling to pray. As a matter of fact, you didn't even bless your meals, or pray before going to bed last night. You are so unthankful, I like that about you. I cannot tell you how glad I am that you have not changed your way of living, you are mine.
Remember, you and I have been going steady for years. And I still don't love you yet. He kicked me out of heaven, and I'm going to use you as long as possible to pay him back.
You see, Fool, GOD LOVES YOU and HE has great plans in store for you.  But you have yielded your life to me, and I'm going to make your life a living hell. That way, we'll be together twice. This will really hurt God. Thanks to you, I'm really showing Him who's boss in your life with all of the good times we've had.  We have been cursing people out, stealing, lying, being hypocritical, fornicating, overeating, telling dirty jokes, gossiping, being judgmental, back stabbing people, disrespecting adults, and those in leadership positions, no respect for the Church, bad attitudes. SURELY you don't want to give all this up. Come on, let's burn together forever. I've got some hot plans for us.
This is just a letter of appreciation from me to you. I'd like to say "THANKS" for letting me use you for most of your foolish life. You are so gullible, I laugh at you. When you are tempted to sin, you give in. HA HA HA, you make me sick. Sin is beginning to take its toll on your life. You look 20 years older, and now, I need new blood.So go ahead and teach some children how to sin. All you have to do is smoke, get drunk or drink while under-aged, cheat, gamble, gossip, fornicate, and live being as selfish as possible. Do all of this in the presence of children and they will do it too. Kids are like that.
Well, I have to let you go for now. I'll be back in a couple of seconds to tempt you again. If you were smart, you would run somewhere, confess your sins, and live for God with what little bit of life that you have left. It's not my nature to warn anyone, but to be your age and still sinning, it's becoming a bit ridiculous.
Don't get me wrong, I still hate you.

Your father,
The Devil

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Where does the bible tell us to lead others to Christ?

The question came up one Sunday; where does the bible tell us to lead others to Christ? A believer was asking this, since he was of the opinion that the bible didn’t have a scripture that actually says, “Lead others to Christ,” and that the sinner’s prayer is actually for the church, not the unsaved. It was a challenge, because, in a sense, he was right, and I didn’t have a two minute argument. I asked him for a few days to put a study together that would clarify the need to bring the Gospel message to unbelievers, and lead them to a relationship of grace and salvation. This is my first draft, and if you take the time to actually read through this, you might want to add something to it. I’d like to rewrite it with a little more clarity. Please feel free to add your comments, as this is really a work in progress.

The New Testament is full of direct references to evangelism and leading others to repentance, and many scriptures give a compelling argument for the saving of souls and leading others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. This study is by no means exhaustive, and I can find no scripture that directly says, “Lead people to Christ;” however, there are many direct references to evangelism and telling people they must repent, receive remission of sins, and be transformed in order to be saved. The life of a disciple involves not only bringing others to Jesus, but teaching them to bring others as well.

Even the Old Testament admonishes us to evangelize the lost. Approximately 1000 years before the ministry of Jesus, David wrote in Psalm 51:12-13 – “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.” King Solomon also wrote, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.” Proverbs 11:30 Evangelism has been at the heart of godly men from long before Christ showed up on earth.

The “Great Commission,” is found in Matthew 28:18-20, and Mark 16:15-17. It is touched on in Luke’s account, chapter 24:46-47, which gives us some specific charges. Even John’s writing of Peter’s restoration (in chapter 21:15-19), reveals the heart of Christ in His charge for Peter to “Feed my sheep,” and, “Follow me.” While Jesus did not say directly, “Go out and have people recite a sinner’s prayer,” His direction to us involves some very specific actions that are necessary for us to fulfill His commission. At the heart of this matter is the process of repentance, transformation, and restoration of the soul. The subsequent response and more outward evidence of this is evangelism.

Matthew 28 gives us 4 parts:
  • Go – a definite action, a command to get away from the immediate area

  • Make disciples of all the nations – no limited to our surrounding area, the spreading of the Gospel is not limited to a geographic area

  • Baptize – a definite, outward expression of faith

  • Teaching to observe all things – all of the commands and precepts of God, “teach” – to disciple, instruct
Mark 16 tells us 3 things:
  • Go – as above

  • Preach the Gospel – “preach,” kerusso, Gr. Strong’s #2784 - to herald (as a public crier), tell abroad, proclaim, publish, especially divine truth (the gospel), exhort, call out with a clear voice, communicate, preach. “The herald is to give a public announcement of an official message to issue whatever demands the message entails. The Christian herald is to proclaim the message of salvation through Jesus Christ and issue a summons to repent and receive forgiveness of sins.” (note from the “Spirit-Filled Bible”)

  • Signs will follow
- Casting out of demons
- Speaking in tongues
- Immunity to snakes – ref. to be able to shake off snakes, as Paul did, immunity to its effects
- Healing the sick – lit. physical and emotional healing

Luke 24:46-47 tells us to preach repentance and remission of sins to all nations.
This is a conscious act of bringing the Gospel to the lost, witnessing, and “leading people to Jesus”

Examples in Jesus’ ministry:

In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “…unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This is the foundation of repentance, transformation and restoration. Here is the beginning of making disciples; getting a person to new birth. A person that does not have a transformation will not be able to understand spiritual teaching. Romans 8:7 tells us that “the carnal (natural) mind is enmity (in direct opposition to) against God; for it is not subject to the laws of God, nor indeed can be.”

Jesus commissions the disciples to “Go …to the lost sheep of Israel.” Matt 10:6. verse 27b…”that what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.”
V 32. Whoever therefore shall confess me before men, him I will confess before my Father which is in Heaven.” Luke 9:2 “…And He sent them to preach the kingdom of God.” Chapter 10 has Him commissioning and sending out 70 disciples, two by two, to heal the sick and preach the kingdom of God.

Luke 22:32 KJV But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

Examples from the apostles’ ministry:

One doesn’t have to get far into the Acts of the Apostles to find them first commissioned to be witnesses (v. 8), and after being filled with the Holy Spirit in Chapter 2, Peter delivers a bold sermon that reignites their ministry. Peter states in v 21 “that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Here he is proclaiming Christ’s own words and further confirming that a man needs not only to be led, but confession is necessary. Peter later calls for repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, and further, to receive the Holy Spirit. At the end of chapter 2, we see that their fellowship (no doubt involving the sharing of their faith with the unsaved) caused signs and wonders. The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Chapter 3 again solidifies Peter and John’s example of discipleship ministry. There is healing and preaching. Again Peter states in v 19, “Repent…and be converted…” bringing the message of Christ, the Gospel, leading people to Him. He was doing what Jesus commissioned him to do. (Feed my sheep. – John 21:15-19)

The power of the disciple’s ministry continues throughout the book of Acts. Chapter 5:12-14 “…through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders…believers were increasingly added to the Lord…” healings, demons cast out, they continued to preach and lead people to Christ. V 42 says, “…they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

The book of Acts is full of the apostles leading others to Jesus. The only instance recorded where Jesus personally appeared to a person that got converted was in Chapter 9, when he appeared to Saul as a light, and He directed him to go into Damascus. V 6 …”the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” Then, Jesus directed Ananias to go speak to Saul. V 15, “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:” Paul’s mission was revealed to Ananias, that he would be leading people to Jesus.
V 17, “And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” V 20, “Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.”

More scripture that encourages evangelism:

Jude 1:21-23 21keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. 22 And on some have compassion, making a distinction, 23 but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.

1 Cor 9:19-20, 19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law;

John 4:35-36 35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36 And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.

Luke 12:8-10 8 “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. 9 But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 10 “And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven.

Luke 15:10 “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

John 5:25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.

John 15:8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

John 15:16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.

John 17:18, 23 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world… I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

1 Cor 11:1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.

There are many direct references and charges from Jesus, examples from the apostles’ ministry, and words to the church from Paul that direct us to lead others to Christ. 2 Tim 4:5 tells us to “do the work of an evangelist.” Eph 4:11 lists evangelists as one of the necessary components of the ministry. This one passage, however, is probably the most convicting:

Romans 10: 8-17 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart ](that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved, 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “ How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”
16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report? 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

The study of this scripture has me conclude this one thing; we are called to lead others to a saving relationship with Jesus, and to preach the kingdom of God.