Thursday, August 20, 2009

Plan for You
—Pt. II

In “Following God’s Plan for You”, I quoted Oswald Chambers and spoke of how important it is to just wait. Today, I began thinking of how to put this in brass tack real and simple terms.

Why the need to do so? Because, as I mentioned in the original post, it seems that waiting is the most difficult thing for us to do. We would often rather suffer while doing something than to simply do nothing. This, unfortunately, is the cause of much misery and missing of what God truly has for us.

And so, I believe this saying to be faithful, true, and worthy of all acceptance:

If you have no definite sense that you are explicitly out of God’s will where you are or in what you are doing, seek not to do anything, but wait.

If you hear His voice, then sure, do what He desires; but do not presume to do anything if you do not explicitly know it is God’s initiative behind it.

I was speaking to a friend of mine recently who had not long ago struggled with why things were going so slowly in the new thing that he knew the Lord had called him to do. I was happy that I could look him in the eye and let him know that by being patient and waiting, even within the doing of the Lord’s known will, that he was being a witness in a way that was impressing those around him multiple times more than any word he could have wished to have spoken.

Note: This was originally published on my old blog, February 19, 2008.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Plan for You

When God brings the blank space, see that you do not fill it in, but wait.
Oswald Chambers
My Utmost For His Highest
January 4th

If you have a copy of this devotional lying around, please pick it up and read the entry for January 4th. If you do not, go here and read it online.

I bring your attention to it because it lines up with my own experience of God’s leading in my life, and how utterly important it is to be patient and wait on the Lord. If you read, you’ll find that not only when we don’t know what God’s will is, but especially when we do, that even then we are ill advised to jump into action. There is a time for knowing, and there is a time for doing. These are two distinct steps to fulfilling God’s will for our lives, because not only must we do what God wants, but we must do what God wants God’s way. We must do what God wants God’s way and at God’s time. We must do what God wants in God’s way at God’s time and with God’s heart. And while these four distinct steps overlap each other, they are yet distinct and capable of omission one or all. The right thing, in the right way, at the right time, and with the right heart. To be truly Christ-like we must have all four operating in everything we presume to be doing as led of the Lord, or we are not being led of Him, at least not fully.

Of all that we do, it seems that waiting taxes us the most. I believe that, for us, waiting is a cross we must bear, for our flesh is what cries out when it cannot be active to attain some sort of gratification. What is death but a ceasing? When we wait, we cease. When we wait, we exercise our faith! Blessed paradox. Jn. 12:24. Faith is death to our flesh, but life to our spirit.

Note: This was originally published on my old blog, January 4, 2008

Saturday, August 8, 2009

An Upside-Down Church—What Are We

Now that I've posted about where we came from, "About New Life - Our Beginning", though not in too much detail, I can let you know what it is we are doing.

First things first, let me explain a bit of my philosophy and why I have it. I have been a part of many churches in the past. I've held leadership positions and worked, more often than not, in such a way that I was as privy to information about the nitty-gritty details of the churches as the pastor. Indeed, I was an assistant pastor for a time at one church, and acted as co-pastor, though not officially titled as such because I refused, in another church. I've youth pastored as well. This is all just to say that I am aware of what's going on in most churches. Now I know you may think it is a leap to have been involved in what amounts to a relative handful of churches and then make conclusions about most churches. I understand that sentiment, but one doesn't have to be involved intimately in all, or all types of, churches (denominations, etc…) to get a grasp for what the norm is. It would be a fair assumption when I hear someone speaking of similar situations in a church or churches with which I am not remotely related, to take that report as fairly reliable. After all, I've already witnessed these things elsewhere. Additionally, when you see the same results in church after church, it's not too much to conclude that the same activities, ways of thinking and doing things, garnered them.

So what is it that I see? Among other things, I see an almost total lack of focused outreach. I do know of churches that are focused and reaching out to the lost, to be fair, but it is far from the norm. Most churches are so wrapped up in themselves and their own interests that they practically forget there even is a world outside. This is a deadly downward spiral in which the sheep that are coming usually become extremely sickly, and often die, because they become abused to some degree or another. They may be neglected in some areas of need, and then put upon greatly in others. The leadership knows there is no vibrancy of life, and they focus the blame on the members. "They should give more. They should work harder.", they'll think, and then begin to make it known, whether by words or deeds. It's crushing to the sheep, but the real problem is that the pastor has no vision.

Ah! Now I've said it: Vision! It's like a magical word to a vast majority of Christians. When we want to sound like we are very spiritual and interested in the work of the Lord in this world, we start asking about vision. It's not that there is no biblical grounds for doing so, it's that we've made it some mystical magical thing, and though it somewhat is that, it's mostly just a very practical every day thing. It's not future, it's now! We think vision is only what we think, but usually just hope, will happen in the future. Sorry! That's wrong, wrong, wrong!

We end up relegating the work of the ministry to the future, the blessings to the future, the harvest to the future ... And what's worse, we always put some very arbitrary starting point to when it's going to begin happening. "Oh! When we get the new building." "Well, we just need a projector first." "If we can just get (fill in blank), then we can really get to work." Aaaargh! And here I thought that Paul said something about being able to do all things through Christ, not coming with anything fancy, just Christ and Christ crucified. It's very tempting to think like this. Just recently I thought this very thing, even though I know it's dumb (the projector was mine...).

The fact is, if you have truly been saved and are full of the Spirit —God's requirements—then you have everything you need to do the work, assuming it's what God has called into being and not yourself. This isn't to dismiss going through God's process of preparation at all, but rather, in being saved and filled, it is the only way of actually fulfilling those requirements of preparation, whether that takes you through a cemetery… I mean seminary (Leonard Ravenhill's line), or not; whether it takes you to bible college or not; whether it takes you into an established denomination or not.

And so this is why I want to strive for a backwards, upside-down church. I don't believe we are aiming for what is backwards according to scripture, but backwards according to the accepted norms of the day. There are one hundred and one things which, to the average church today, do not make a bit of sense that I should not have already started doing. It's tough knowing that many otherwise like-minded saints do not, or would not, approve or understand our methods (or lack thereof).

What Is A Backwards, Upside-Down Church?

It's a church that is willing to maybe look a little odd by todays standards, and one that reaches out to a dying world with as much emphasis, probably more, on doing so as preaching and teaching. What is the preaching and teaching supposed to be for, anyway, if not for the equipping of the saints for the work? It was the clear and focused goal of the early church to share the gospel with every creature. Now we just hope they'll catch it on TV.

And that's not all. While I know of some churches that really are focused and reaching out, I know of many who would be shocked to find they are not among them. There are many churches that have outreach programs. They are legacy programs often, and ones that never worked even when they were begun. Other churches have newer high-flying programs that would make Hollywood take notice, but what "fruit" they get will be a direct result of how the seed was planted. If the "converts" needed the bright lights and fancy shows to get them, they'll leave just as quickly for the same excitement wherever they find it. It wasn't the Holy Spirit that captivated them, it was Hollywood style.

There are many more ways in which we delude ourselves into thinking we are doing our part, too many to elaborate on here. Let's just suffice it to say this: Any honest Christian would be forced to admit that our methods have not, and simply are not, working. There may be a new work that springs up here or there and they'll get a lot of members, but they're usually not converts. I believe it was Kenneth Hagin who said something along the line that most churches are fishing out of their own bathtubs. If that is so, and I think it is, it means the fish are not happy and are looking for better waters. Again, the ministers are failing.

I repeat, it was the clear and focused goal of the early church to preach the gospel to every creature. Every meeting was geared towards that end. It's like being in a delivery business. Who among you would question the boss preaching about making sure the right oil, and enough of it, was put into the fleet of vehicles? I mean, they are in the delivery business, right? Not the oil business. Likewise, just because in the early church not everything said and done was the preaching of the gospel itself directly to an unsaved person does not mean that it wasn't the ultimate goal always of everything they did.

Now, I'll admit that in the everyday doings of the saints there is something above preaching the gospel, and that is just simply loving and worshiping God Himself. How, however, can we justify not having His ways, His desires, and His purposes always before us if we claim to love and worship Him?

For this reason I'll strive for a backward, upside-down church; one that puts first things first. We'll strive to share the gospel, the unadulterated gospel, with everyone we come into contact with. We'll pray, and do pray, for the opportunity to share; that God will bring hungry people our way, or send us their way, to lift Him up. We desire, as God desires, that all should repent; that all should be broken before the altar of God. We dedicate our lives to being free of burdens that would preclude us from answering God's answer to our prayer. Amen.

Note: This was originally published on my old blog, September 14, 2007.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

About New Life

This new work, though started just relatively recently, has actually been the result of many, many years of preparation. It was E.M. Bounds that said:

Preaching is not the performance of an hour. It is the outflow of a life. It takes twenty years to make a sermon, because it takes twenty years to make the man.
–E.M. Bounds

And so, it has taken God many years to prepare me—us—for this thing which began roughly two years ago.

Roughly? Well, it's hard to pinpoint a date and time when New Life came to be. It certainly started well before it was named, and really even before our first unorganized “organized” meeting. The people we've been able to lead to Christ and minister to were before any “meetings”. That said, the meetings, held on the traditional day, began about two years ago. I very purposely do not call our meetings “services”, because it sounds very much like a funeral to me, and that is not anything like what a Christian meeting should be. Jesus isn't dead!

We moved here to Motobu at the end of 2000. It was an unexpected move, and more than a bit hasty. Like usual however, and the topic for a future post, God came through in miraculous fashion to open up a place for us to live. Though we knew Kiyomi's parents' house wasn't a long term solution, we knew also it was God's will for a time, and that He opened their hearts to do what they initially really didn't want to.

I bring up this move, however, because of something else God did in the midst of it. Though we knew it was God's will to come to Motobu for a time, it wasn't a place we desired to stay. Far from it, to be honest. To us, there was nothing at all sweet or rosy about Motobu, even the sweetness of hope for ministering to a dead town. There was just nothing, just MOTOBU!

Yet, in preparation for and actual carrying out of our move, something began to happen. Every time we descended from the hills down into the town, we slowly began to sense that this was more than "nothing". Slowly, very slowly, we began to get further away from the feeling of hopelessness, and closer to a sense of the possibilities; God's possibilities.

After another move within Motobu, we finally had a place that lent itself to having people over. We have parking and a space to hold a small crowd. But - there always is a "but" - though we had the desire, we still weren't ready. It's not that we didn't share the gospel or witness to people, but we weren't ready for starting meetings and being responsible for other people's lives. We still needed some "cooking".

In the meantime, I was teaching English for income, both at my own private school, and for a public school system 45 minutes away. I was continually drained, and wasn't very nice to be around. I had a desire to quit one of the jobs, but it took some time to get out of it for various reasons. It was a tough step back in salary, but we just learned to look up and trust our Father in heaven.

From that experience I learned how easy it is to get focused on things we shouldn't. I realized that there were many other things in my life that had to go as well before we could fully begin to step into what God wanted for us. It became a continual letting go of security - false security - for uncertainty, but by faith, absolute security. Does that make sense? We gave up what, to this world, is security, for what, to this world, is insecurity. But like all else, the world has it completely backwards.

… for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
2 Tim 1:12

That is real security.

I've now come to the place where I ask myself why Christians believe following God's will for their life should make any remote sense to this world's economy. It clearly won't. How can we reconcile a "narrow path", "carrying our crosses daily", and "living sacrifices" with ease, leisure, and prosperity? Something doesn't add up. It's because we haven't been using our Holy Ghost calculators; the one that says faith + patience = inheriting the promises. Heb. 6:12

So, there have been several years of stepping out of this world's way of thinking and doing, which dominates the Church as well, and into a life of faith. If faith isn't more to you than believing in some deity, you don't believe. If there is no do-ity, there is no deity, whether you choose to call that figment of your imagination Jesus or not.

And so, with many years of struggling to come to grips with what the Bible teaches and latching on to Jesus for dear life, we were able to start a few feeble meetings a couple of years ago, roughly. And rough is the way to put it, friends, for it has been that, and I suspect will continue to be. Where there is no cross there is no Christian.

Note: This was originally published on my old blog, September 6, 2007.