What the Vineyard Means to Me

These last few days I have been reflecting on my choice to join the Vineyard movement. I’ve been rereading many of the books that led to that choice and reexamining my beliefs. I’ve found it refreshing and encouraging. There is something about looking at our past choices and decisions that makes future ones easier. Having a solid “YES!” in our heart makes it easier to say “no!” to other things.

I came into the Vineyard out of the Lutheran church. I loved growing up as a Lutheran. I met some of the finest people I know in my home town church, men and women I still respect and admire. I learned a love for God’s word, the importance of small groups and solid doctrine. I learned to serve, tithe and pull my weight in the congregation – even as a teen.

In college, the Lutheran denomination I was a part of started exploring ideas and agendas I wasn’t comfortable with. This caused me to look into other churches. By divine Providence, I got connected with the Vineyard congregation I now serve as pastor.

I didn’t know anything about the Vineyard at first, so I started reading. I came across several books: Power Healing, Power Evangelism, The Quest for the Radical Middle and The Gospel of the Kingdom. Each book further confirmed something I knew deep within – I was Vineyard.

Vineyard, to me, is just a name for a collection of beliefs and practices, a way of viewing the world. To me, Vineyard means:

Singing simple love songs to Jesus individually and corporately,
The Vineyard is a worship movement first and foremost. We sing songs TO God, not just about Him. Our songs are simple and easy to learn. We know that our personal, private worship in daily life is more important than our corporate times together. We know that Sunday morning merely rides the wave of worship that started the week before. We don’t have fancy light shows or trendy bands, we have love sick hearts and joy in our salvation.

Living with a Kingdom mindset,
In the Vineyard, we know we are just one small piece of the Kingdom pie. God’s Church includes people of all races, all backgrounds and all denominations. We keep in the forefront of our minds that we are on the same team as every other congregation in town. We don’t compete. Rather, we rejoice when new congregations come to town. After all, until everyone is a disciple of Jesus, no church is too big and there can’t be too many churches. We seek to partner and bless.

We also realize that God’s Kingdom is much bigger than Sunday morning. We realize that people are called to minister and advance God’s Kingdom every day of the week, in every circumstance. Some people are stay-at-home-mom ministers, others are ministers in business or education. God’s Kingdom is wholistic in nature, so wherever you are it is a chance for the wisdom of God to manifest.

Practicing the Gospel with humility and compassion,
Christians practice the Gospel like a doctor practices medicine. It is what we do all day every day. We study and learn certainly, but it is for the purpose of bringing that knowledge and experience to bear in everyday circumstances with everyday people. We are constantly learning, growing and field testing our theology. Knowing we can never master our field of study (God and His ways) keeps us humble, flexible and hungry for better methods. We refuse to elevate certain methods, models or sayings just because. If something no longer works (i.e. “Come Holy Spirit”) there is no need to keep it.

I also enjoy that compassion plays a HUGE role in our life together. There is never a sense of superiority or performance in the Vineyard. We realize that we are all in this together and that we all have areas we need special grace and patience in. We are firmly convinced that ministry devoid of compassion is worthless. The only thing we can control is how we love – not if someone gets healed or if someone accepts the Gospel. So we focus on loving well, and letting the people we minister to know that we love them. The focus is on love, compassion and companionship, never results or performance.

Power Evangelism and
We practice a particular kind of evangelism in the Vineyard, what we call “power evangelism.” It is the kind of evangelism practiced by Jesus in the Gospel and the Disciples in Acts. It is a clear and sensible proclamation of the Gospel that God confirms with a miracle, or a miracle followed up with the preaching of the Gospel. However it happens, we believe both parts should be present on a regular basis.

Do we control what God does? Absolutely not and sometimes He doesn’t do anything we can see. But we have found that God does manifest His Presence more frequently when we ask Him to.

In the Vineyard, we fully believe that if someone can be talked into the Gospel, then they can be talked out of it. We also know that people in this culture have all sorts of mental barriers to acceptance. We simply believe that power evangelism is the best means of bypassing mental barriers and speaking to people’s hearts – their truest and deepest selves. We’re not always awesome at it, but we are committed to learning how to work with God to see this happen more and more.

Discipleship.
All of the above culminate in our value for discipleship. We’ve found that the only thing that really transforms people is God, and worshipping Him is not only our highest privilege and goal – it is also the most direct route to transformation and long-term life change.

We want to train and equip people to advance the Kingdom all day every day in their families, businesses, communities, schools, etc. so we are constantly on the hunt for the best tools around. We want people to live in accordance with God’s will and wisdom in their finances, marriages, parent/child roles, friendships and careers. We want people to be equipped to do the work of Jesus wherever they are, so we train in healing prayer, evangelism and listening skills.

Our goal is to train people to be like Jesus: able to do the things He did, the way He did them.

That is what the Vineyard means to me. That is what I signed up for when I became a member of the Vineyard and especially when I became a pastor.

I realize that those values don’t cover every aspect of Christianity or Christian discipleship. Yep. We are just one part of God’s Kingdom. We want to do our part well and champion other parts of the Church to do what they are called to do because we LOVE receiving what God has given to other groups. No one denomination can do everything well, but together the Church can be a complete picture of the character of God.

“Preach my word, not your experience.”

On May 8, 1977 John Wimber started preaching to his fledgling congregation out of the Gospel of Luke. Four months later, John was at a crossroads. The “problem” is that Luke, as one scholar put it, is the Charismatic Gospel – meaning, there is more about the work of the Holy Spirit in Luke than in Matthew and Mark combined. Preaching through Luke, John Wimber was confronted with the healing ministry of Jesus, the “show and tell” of Gospel proclamation.

John prayed and felt the Lord’s invitation to learn to preach, teach and minister like Jesus did. So they began praying for sick people to be healed. The results were disasterous. The first couple Sundays, the people on the prayer team actually caught the sicknesses of the people they were praying for. No one was healed.

For the next ten months John continued to preach out of Luke, almost every sermon was on healing. After the sermon, a ministry time was offered. People who wanted to receive prayer would go to the designated ministry area and the prayer team would pray – sometimes for hours at a time. One particular time, John had been praying for several hours for a man to be healed and nothing was happening. John fell to the floor and cried. He said something to the effect of “Lord, we’re doing what You’re saying and it isn’t working. It isn’t fair. Why aren’t you backing up Your word?”

(By the way, this is a paraphrased version of the account taken from John’s testimony in Power Healing. I’m doing my best to report it from memory.)

Then, John had two encounters. One was after his first successful healing – as he was driving home, he saw a giant honeycomb imprinted across the sky. Honey was dripping down from heaven and falling on people who were in a variety of postures. Some people were on their knees, gladly receiving and sharing while others brushed the honey off in an aggravated way. The honey symbolized God’s mercy, which includes physical healing. God was saying to John, “My mercy is there, you need to learn how to position yourself under it. The problem isn’t on My end. Don’t beg me for healing again.”

As John was meditating on the Honeycomb Vision he felt the Lord saying to him, “Preach my word, not your experience.” So John continued to preach that God was a healer, that Holy Spirit was still at work and that we, as disciples, were called to carry on the mission and ministry of Jesus. Shortly after this time, God began to do amazing things in their corporate gatherings and what we now know and The Vineyard Movement was born.

John’s story has encouraged me greatly, especially his Honeycomb Vision and God’s command to preach His word and not our own experience. I’ve been as guilty as anyone of elevating my experience above God’s word, of building a case file against God and letting that weigh most heavily on my heart. It has only led to depression, discouragement and wanting to quit pastoral ministry. My experience really only matters when it is in alignment with who God says He is. Otherwise it is just noise.

As John saw in his vision, the problem isn’t on God’s end. The problem is in our inability to posture ourselves to receive what God is wanting to give. I’ve committed in my heart to never again beg God for healing or the healing anointing – it has already been given. Instead, I’ve committed myself to learning how to posture my heart to receive God’s mercy and to learn how to co-operate with Holy Spirit in advancing God’s Rule and Reign on the earth.

One thing that has helped me in this endeavor is watching my son Emory learn to walk. I want him to walk. I model for him every day what walking looks like. I hold him up so that he can practice moving his legs. I hold him by the hand so that he can keep his balance.

But when he took his own independent steps, I was overjoyed.

It didn’t matter that they were wobbly and weak. It didn’t matter that he fell down and cried. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t do it perfectly right off the bat. I was happy he was trying, learning, growing. And that led me to help him less. I started offering my finger fewer and fewer times. I let him struggle and fall more often because getting up on his own made him stronger and gave him more opportunities to practice his skills.

It is the same way with all of us who are learning how to do the things that Jesus did. Father is overjoyed with our weak, wobbling steps. He isn’t grumpy that we aren’t doing it perfectly right off the bat. He is letting us fall so that we can get back up, so that we can practice our skills and get stronger.

God is a healer. God commissioned us to heal, it is one of the things Believers are supposed to do. We can ignore that for our own convenience, or, we can embark on the painful, humbling, even humiliating journey of learning how to posture our hearts and co-operate with Holy Spirit.

What we can’t do is bring His word down to the level of our experience. We can’t dumb down what He says and we can’t elevate what we experience. What we do is seek to experience what His word says. It may not happen all the time, even most of the time… and we set those experiences aside. Then we stand up and try it again.

Two Parts to Knowledge

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better,” Ephesians 1:17

I’ve always loved that prayer by Paul for the Ephesians, and for us as believers. Of all the things that Paul could ask for, he asks that we would be able to know Father better.

Knowledge, in the Bible, is of two parts – intellectual comprehension (wisdom) and experiential understanding (revelation). The two always go together. One part devoid of the other is incomplete knowledge and often leads to error.

Intellectual comprehension is the easy piece, it is what we most commonly associate with the word “knowledge.” Intellectual comprehension is what most of us were taught in school. It is the ability to “wrap our minds” around an idea, to cognitively grasp a concept.

Experience is something we tend to shy away from in most Christian circles. It is viewed as subjective emotionalism and, therefore, prone to abuse. But that isn’t what Paul says. He says that revelation is necessary in order to know God and, by extension, love Him.

Revelation means “to reveal,” or “to take away the veil.” Revelation is when we encounter something that has always been there, but we were ignorant of it. It is when Holy Spirit makes something real to us, when we understand with our hearts and not just our heads. Experiential knowledge is life-giving, as when Adam knew his wife and she conceived. Experience creates space within us for new and abundant life. Experience makes sterile and impotent theology into a vibrant relationship.

Experience isn’t everything, but it IS something. I’m of the opinion that we should seek to experience what we know as diligently as we seek to learn new things. We need both in order to thrive and advance in our love of God.

Captives, Prisoners and the Year of Jubliee

God is better than we think. He proves this time and time again. Every time we put a limit on His mercy and grace, He reveals another facet of His character that is at first offensive, then consoling, then transformative.

I had this experience made clear to me last week when I was prepping for yesterday’s sermon. I was reading through Isaiah 61, taking it slow and trying to process what it was that God was speaking to us. Then I came upon this part of verse 1,

“He sent me… to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”

I’m indebted to Bill Johnson of Redding, CA for giving me the germ of this insight – that captives and prisoners are two different kinds of people.

Captives are people suffering because of someone else’s sin. Captives are people who were sinned against – attacked, overpowered, enslaved. They are people who were taken captive.

Captives wear many different faces in our culture. They are the molested and abused, the raped, forgotten and mistreated. The aborted, the neglected, the abandoned, the alien and the orphan. It only makes sense that a God of mercy, grace, goodness and justice would act to make these wrong things right, to heal their hurts and set them free.

Prisoners are a different ball game. Prisoners are those paying the price for their own sins. Humanity loves to punish, God does not. Humanity loves to see sinners beaten down, God loves to see prisoners set free.

Anyone who embraces current suffering for past mistakes is a prisoner. A woman wracked with health-destroying guilt over a past abortion is a prisoner. A man who accepts his chronic pain as a just reward for his lifetime obesity is a prisoner. Anyone, for any reason, who never asks God to heal them because they believe their suffering is deserved is a prisoner. And Jesus came to set them free.

We often want prisoners to earn their release. We want the fat man to lose weight before his hip stops hurting. We want the abuser to have his self-worth totally destroyed before we even think of releasing him. We want our prisoners to suffer… and then some.

I understand that response – it is a natural human response. But, as Christians, we are no longer allowed to think about things naturally, for we have the mind of Christ. We have to think about things from God’s perspective.

In the Law, God said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This was to limit carnal man’s desire for vengeance above and beyond the hurt that was caused.

More compelling, in Isaiah 55 God says,

Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. ‘ For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.’

I love that the famous passage “My thoughts are higher than your thoughts” is in the context of forgiveness and mercy. An evil man can turn and be completely forgiven – that is totally Divine, not a human response at all. And it is possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus.

Isaiah 61 goes on to say that this is the year of the Lord’s favor, another way of saying “Jubilee.” The year of Jubilee was the year of canceling debts, restoring inheritance and livelihood. It was a year that offered hope for the next generation, a Divine course correction for the entire nation.

It didn’t matter why you were in debt when Jubilee came around, all was forgiven. It didn’t matter if calamity had overtaken you or if you had been a terrible manager and spent yourself into debt you could not pay. When the shofar sounded you got a new lease on life, a chance to do things better.

Jesus is our Jubliee – our forgiveness of debt, our reclaimed inheritance, our new lease on life. Whatever you were before you came to Jesus – captive or prisoner – you have the assurance that it has all been paid for. You no longer need to punish yourself nor look to punish others. God will restore your fortunes, heal your hurts and offer you a life far more glorious than punishment or revenge.

It is time to let the Lamb receive the reward of his suffering. It is time to turn over our ashes and receive his beauty bestowed on us. It is time to let go of our mourning and enter into his joy. It is time to reject depression and despair and embrace the hope he offers to us.

Continued punishment only cheapens Jesus’s sacrifice. Please trust me, what he suffered was more than enough. It is time to trust and believe in what God has accomplished for us. It is time to forgive and receive forgiveness. It is time to submit ourselves in humble reverence to a God who is so much bigger and so much better than we could ever possibly imagine.

Understanding Forgiveness

I’m reading through Luke in The Passion Translation (check it out here) and really loving it. I just finished chapter 7, the part where Jesus is anointed in worship by a prostitute and forgives her all her sins. Jesus tells a parable to Simon the Pharisee who doesn’t quite understand and Jesus ends the parable with this verse,

“She has been forgiven of all her many sins. This is why she has shown Me such extravagant love. But the one who assumes they have very little to be forgiven will love me very little. Luke 7:47 TPT, emphasis mine

That last sentence cut deep this morning. How often have I been in that place, assuming that I have little to be forgiven of, assuming that I am a pretty decent guy and that my soul just needed a little help rather than a complete overhaul? More often than I want, certainly!

I want to be an extravagant lover. I want to make a costly sacrifice in worship, just like the prostitute did in this section. I want to be known for the singularity of my devotion and the joy I take in my salvation more than any other thing. After all, at the end of the Day, He is all I truly have.

I don’t think this means I need to spend a whole lot of time drudging up my past sins in order to present before God a convincing case of my own depravity. I do think it means I need to spend a whole lot of time meditating on His Goodness – all the ways He has come through for me, all the things He has saved me from and the Reality that I have been ransomed and redeemed. Everything I am should have been (and was) sold into slavery in order to pay my debt and still it wasn’t enough. Jesus didn’t just erase my debt, he paid it in full and posted my bond so that I could walk out of my sin-prison a free man, a son of God.

I am not the man I used to be before Jesus’s sacrifice took hold of my life, but I never want to forget that I am where I am today, and will be where I am Tomorrow, because of Him.

Expressiveness in Worship

In many ways this is a follow up to yesterday’s post. Thanks for all the feedback by the way. The comments, messages, emails and conversations I had with you about it have been really great. I so appreciate you all taking the time to read this and process it with me. Thank you.

One of the themes that surfaced yesterday was the idea that expressiveness and obedience don’t always go hand in hand. In other words, someone can be quite demonstrative in worship and really not walk with God through the rest of the week. The flip side are my “frozen chosen” siblings – people who are reserved and subdued in their expressiveness, but who have Christlike character and selflessly give of themselves in service to others. So thank you to everyone who reminded me that you can’t tell what is going on inside a person by what they do on the outside. That is a huge point and wasn’t well articulated in my previous post.

At the crux of the issue for me are the questions, “What is appropriate worship?” and “How can I do it authentically?”

What is appropriate worship?

When I read Revelation chapters 4 and 5, the place where Jesus is revealed as the Lamb who was slain standing in the center of the Throne, it appears to me that Heaven’s response is appropriate. Angels dance and sing, the Elders fall on their faces before him throwing their status symbols at his feet, John weeps and the Lamb receives the reward of his suffering. Were I to be in that place what would I do? Since Ephesians tells me I am in that place (seated with Christ in Heavenly places), what DO I do? What is an appropriate response to seeing Jesus at the right hand of the Father, wearing the same uniform he wore when he won his greatest victory – THE greatest victory? How do I respond to the knowledge that I am free from sin and death, that I will live forever as a beloved son of God? Worship is obviously the correct response, but what kind?

To be clear, I am not against quiet and subdued forms of worship – in fact, those are my mainstay. I crave early morning encounters with the Word while I enjoy a cup/pot of coffee. I really enjoy journaling and reading. I can lie on the couch and have a wonderful time with God. So I’m not bashing those expressions, but what frustrates me is that my heart and body rarely, if ever, move into those more expressive, extravagant and costly forms of worship.

The greatest worship service I’ve ever seen happens every year in February, it is called the Super Bowl. People start tailgating HOURS before the event and pay outrageous prices for the privilege to do so. Men strip down to their underwear and paint themselves their team’s colors, even in freezing weather. The armchair quarterbacks hoot, holler, dance and spill beer when a good play is made and how many millions of dollars go into the half time show? I’m not knocking the Super Bowl, I’m just trying to show that humans are made to worship extravagently. If we do such ridiculous things for men, how much more should we worship God and the Lamb?

But we don’t live in that Reality very well, do we? We come scattered and tired. We come hurting, frustrated and confused. We come with all of our baggage from the week, lucky to even be there for Sunday morning service. With everything going on in our lives it is hard to get centered for worship and muster up the energy for those more expressive displays. Add to that the fact that Midwestern culture is stoic and reserved and it isn’t any wonder that we look at people strangely when they raise their hands, let alone dance or wave flags.

I understand our hesitancy and reservation AND I think He is worthy of our extravagance. So, what do we do?

The point of this post isn’t to corral people into a certain type of response. I really just want to process my thinking on it and hopefully spur some of you on into greater depths of worship. So here is what I think:

I think your standard operating procedure in worship is just fine. I also think that if you are never having to sacrifice in your worship of God, then something is wrong. Sacrifice, taking that next step, can looks lots of different ways – raising your hands if you’ve never done it before, dancing, shouting, crying, laughing. The expression isn’t as important as the heart posture. Are you in alignment, body, soul and spirit, with what you are singing or reflecting on? If not, what can you do to get in alignment?

I really value authenticity, especially in worship. I also know that my emotions are not my highest authority. Sometimes I need to inform my emotions that there really is something going on that I should be excited about and I need to do things with my body to help bring the rest of me into alignment and agreement with what is really Real.

AND, there is also a place for rest. Sometimes my best connection time with God is falling asleep on the couch while my wife leads college students in worship. There isn’t anything wrong with rest, quiet or peace as forms of worship – sometimes they are the most profound.

All in all, there isn’t a formula for appropriate worship because appropriate worship spans a huge spectrum and changes from circumstance to circumstance. What we need to be aware of, though, is when we avoid certain expressions because that often means we have an area of hurt, unbelief or idolatry. And often our healing comes as we identify that area, offer it over to God and then lead ourselves into that expression and claim the Truths of who He is and what He has done for us.

Thanks for reading friends. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Theology and Doxology

At a recent men’s retreat, my friend Adam said something that struck me in a powerful way. It has provided me with days of contemplation, serious conviction and a desire to live differently. His statement?

“When your theology exceeds your doxology you know you are in trouble.”

Now, since I haven’t been to seminary, I had to put it into plain-speak so I could understand it. Here is my best attempt at paraphrasing:

“When the depth of your knowledge exceeds the extravagance of your worship unbelief has taken root and you are on the verge of idolatry.”

Even the simplest and most basic truths of Christianity are glorious – the all-powerful God who created the Heavens and the Earth knows me, loves me and is interested in my life; where I was once destined for eternal torment I am now destined for eternal life because God took on flesh and died in my place; God Himself dwells inside of me and wants me to learn how to co-operate with Him to establish His rule and reign on the Earth… and I could go on and on.

Pick any one of those truths and really think about what it means – it is almost beyond our comprehension, yet it is absolutely true. But I rarely live with any present awareness of those truths, most of the time those Realities roll off my heart without any discernible impact. If that isn’t sin, I don’t know what is.

You see, to know these truths and NOT worship reveals unbelief at some level. Somewhere along the line I have taken a truth, “God loves me” for instance, and built a case of unbelief against it. I have a whole case file of hurts, unanswered prayers and scenarios that could have played out better and I blame God for them. I listen more closely to the voice of the Accuser than the voice of my Lord and conclude that God is liar and He doesn’t really love me – for if He really loved me, then such and such wouldn’t have happened. By partnering with the Enemy through unbelief I allow him to rob me of knowing God’s love and the security that brings and I allow him to rob God of my worship of Him. In essence, I worship my past experiences rather than God. I believe they are more potent and more real than He is. That is called idolatry.

So my challenge, our challenge, is to set aside the case file and really enter in to belief. It is to trust God – who He is and what He says – and to understand that He is the only thing that is Really Real, Eternally Constant and Unshakable. Our challenge is to let God’s Word weigh most heavily on our hearts and allow it to propel us into worship. And, interestingly enough, worshiping God leads to new understanding of who He is and we get caught up in the virtuous cycle of delight – constantly worshipping and finding new reasons to worship.

I think all of us have room to grow in the expression and extravagance of our worship. There are something like 10 distinct words for ‘worship’ in the Bible. They span the range of falling prostrate on the ground, spinning in circles while shouting, raising up one’s hands, dancing wildly, and sitting in humble reverance. I was raised among the “frozen chosen”, so every one of those expressions sound terrifying to me except for the last one. Not terrifying because I don’t think God is worthy, terrifying because I wonder what people will think. Here again is idolatry. I value my reputation, my sense of propriety and my fear of man more than I value worshipping God to the extent He deserves. Damn it – I didn’t know my idolatry, unbelief and rebellion ran so deep.

There is part of me that fears what my congregation would look like if everyone cut loose in worship like I am proposing here. What would newcomers think? Does that even matter? Would people be so distracted by others that they wouldn’t be able to engage in worshipping God? Do I cater to anemic hearts or do I throw everyone in the deep end trusting that God will teach them how to walk on water in the midst of the storm? I don’t really have good answers to these questions, so if anyone reading this has any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

What I do know is that it is time to dethrone my idol of self. My unbelief, my idolatry, my rebellion and my fear of man have to go. I have sworn my allegiance to Jesus, He is the only King I shall have. Dear Lord, please help me.

Sinners and Saints

As I continue to process Eugene Peterson’s quote that I mentioned yesterday, I wanted to come back around to talk about the idea of being a sinner or a saint from a theological perspective. The quote, once again is:

“The word ‘sinner’ is a theological designation. It is essential to insist upon this. It is not a moralistic judgment. It is not a word that places humans somewhere along a continuum ranging from angel to ape, assessing them as relatively ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It designates humans in relation to God and sees them separated from God. Sinner means something is awry between humans and God. In that state, people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy, and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgment.

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

Looking at the words “sinner” and “saint” in this context brings up the idea of citizenship. “Sinners” are citizens of the perishable world ruled over by Satan and “Saints” are citizens of the imperishable and unshakable Kingdom of God ruled over by King Jesus. Theologically speaking, each kingdom is mutually exclusive, there is no way possible to hold dual citizenship in the spirit. You are either a citizen of the world or of the Kingdom, there is no way to be simultaneously sinner and saint in this model. (Note to the Lutherans, I don’t believe Martin Luther was using a strictly theological frame of reference in his simultaneous saint and sinner statement, but a mixed theological and moral one. I believe he was saying that, even though we are saved, we still continue to sin (i.e. do bad things). I agree with this statement well enough as shown below.)

Whether saint or sinner, each person is a citizen of their respective country. They are subject to the laws of the land and are disciplined or punished accordingly when they transgress those commands. It isn’t all that different than the U.S. legal system – if a United States citizen commits a criminal offense elsewhere in the world, they are brought home to face trial according to our rules and regulations, regardless of if they are living in a foreign country at the time. Contrast that with the immigrants living in the U.S. Although they live here, carry on business, and generally view the U.S. as “home,” they do not have the rights and privileges accorded to United States citizens. Should anything happen to them, they are not protected by the Constitution of this country and would, instead, be subject to the laws of their homeland.

So, all of this is mildly interesting, but what does it have to do with us?

Saints, citizens of the Kingdom, are subject to the laws of the Kingdom. Some of these laws are:

The Law of Inheritance
When you become a citizen of the Kingdom after swearing allegiance to Jesus and being born again through water and Spirit, you immediately become a son or daughter of God. That means that you have an equal share in the inheritance of the Saints. Since Jesus died, his will was put into effect… and he left you everything! He died your death so that you could live his life. Everything accorded to Jesus as the Beloved Son of God now belongs to you because of the Law of Inheritance.

The Law of Sowing and Reaping
In the Kingdom, you reap abundant amounts of whatever you sow. This is in direct contrast to the citizens of the world who live under the Curse (see Genesis). In the Kingdom, even our smallest efforts receive lavish rewards. Faithful stewardship of finances is rewarded with governmental authority. Acts of kindness, compassion and forgiveness are returned on us many times over by none other than God Himself. Similarly, a critical analysis of another person’s faults results in a purifying season as Holy Spirit lays bare the cracks in our own foundation and works to make them right.

The Law of Discipline
God promises to always discipline us as sons (and daughters). Whenever we are found in error, God will always work to make it right in us. He is absolutely committed to conforming us to the character of Christ. He will present us to His son as a radiant bride, without any spot, wrinkle or blemish. The Law of Discipline overwrites the Law of Punishment – we never again have to fear that God will punish us for our sins. We will be corrected and disciplined, but never punished – never abandoned to feel the weight of our own guilt and shame.

There are undoubtedly many other laws of the Kingdom, those 3 are just the most obvious ones to me in Scripture.

Now, I’ve mentioned that “saint” and “sinner” are theological designations rather than moral ones. I’ve also mentioned that sinners can be quite virtuous. I’d also like to mention that saints can be quite carnal. We need look no father than the book of 1 Corinthians to find this truth.

Paul writes “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people…” In other words, Paul is writing to saints, citizens of the Kingdom. Yet a couple chapters later, Paul says, “I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly (doing bad things)…” And then he writes, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate… and you are proud (of it)!”

So here we have quite a conundrum. The saints of God in Corinth were proud that they were so tolerant of sexual immorality that they even had a reputation for it. In addition to sexual dysfunction, the church struggled with pride, spiritual abuse, hyperspirituality, disorder and leadership divisions. And yet, Paul calls them saints. They were citizens of the Kingdom, not upstanding ones, but citizens none the less. And because they were citizens, they weren’t punished, they were disciplined and corrected. They were brought to a fuller understanding of the Gospel and what it means to be the people of God. They were hedonistic, carnal and everything we would be ashamed of in the MidWest, but they were still saints.

Now, I’ll go ahead and state the obvious by saying that it shouldn’t be this way. Those of us who are followers of Jesus are called to be morally perfect, just as Jesus is. Now we aren’t there yet, we are still in the midst of the purification process, but being “in process” doesn’t disqualify us from being saints and making use of our rights as citizens. Christians must live with a bizarre mixture of boldness and humility – boldness because we come before God as those already made perfect in Christ, asking for the things we need and confident that we will be heard; humble because we know that we are still “being saved” and there is still so much in our lives that needs to be removed before we could ever be called “good.”

Carnal saints and virtuous sinners – the world can be a complicated place. But we must never lose sight of the fact that we are called to be the people of God, fully submitted to Christ and reborn as God’s children. We may not always look like it, but we must own our identity as saints – we must settle this issue! For it is only when we place ourselves in the Potter’s hands and say “I am yours,” that He can reshape us and use us. For as long as we think we are “sinners” we will never believe that He made us into the right thing. We will think we need to be something far less noble than what He made us to be. We might be reshaped, but we will never be of use. The lies of bad theology will keep us believing we are disqualified and we will never do what He created us to do.

This issue may be a little hard to wrap your head around, but it is of the utmost importance because it concerns your identity and the Goodness of God. What you believe about God is the single most important thing in your life because it shapes everything you do. Do you believe that God is that Good? Do you believe that Jesus’s blood is potent enough to save you completely? Or do you believe it was only strong enough to save you partially?

This is a huge issue for me folks. I hope these posts have helped clarify my thoughts and sparked a passion in you to claim the fullness of your identity in Christ.

As always, thanks for reading.

Theological Designations

“The word ‘sinner’ is a theological designation. It is essential to insist upon this. It is not a moralistic judgment. It is not a word that places humans somewhere along a continuum ranging from angel to ape, assessing them as relatively ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It designates humans in relation to God and sees them separated from God. Sinner means something is awry between humans and God. In that state, people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy, and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgment.

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

My friend Marty recently blogged his way through Eugene Peterson’s (must read) book The Contemplative Pastor. In the course of his blogging, Marty posted an extended version of the quote above and offered his thoughts. Today, I thought I’d do the same because that quote has stuck in my brain for weeks and something that tenacious is a good indicator of Holy Spirit’s involvement.

Peterson articulates something I have known intuitively for a long time, but never had language for. “Sin” and “sinner” are theological terms, not moral ones. For that matter, “saint” is also a theological term and not a moral one. But we are so used to thinking in moral terms (sinner = bad and saint = good) that it requires a considerable amount of conscious effort to rid ourselves of the habit and think correctly about these ideas.

Peterson says, “‘Sinner’ means something is awry between humans and God. In that state, people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgement.”

In the town where I live I encounter an overwhelming number of virtuous sinners. They live decent lives. They pay taxes and vote. They love their families and work hard. They are civically minded and engaged. And… they are sinners, because they refuse to submit to Jesus as their Lord (ultimate authority) and Savior (the only way to the Father – aka salvation). These very virtuous sinners aren’t falling apart at the seams – in fact, they are doing quite well by any moral, ethical or economic standard you choose. But they are spiritually impoverished for they live as enemies of God, His Kingdom and His Christ.

I’m really done with the evangelistic model of trying to convince people they are no-good, dirty, rotten sinners. I’m not convinced it is effective and it isn’t something I’ve been able to make myself do, so how can I expect the people I pastor to do it? So the question I have been asking myself is this – Is there a better way?

I believe there is.

When Jesus begins his ministry, he begins with a call, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Jesus then proceeds to demonstrate God’s power, rule and reign over all the created order – over sickness, disease and death, over natural elements and over demons. Each and every demonstration of God’s power was to drive home the message that God’s Kingdom was breaking in all around them and people had better decide whether to be for God and His King or against them. The decision to “be on God’s side” was shown by a transformed life – living as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven and abiding by the laws of that land.

Much of Jesus’s message and ministry bypassed moral objections. His proclamation and demonstration showed (a) that God was very real and very powerful, (b) that God’s Kingdom was invading the sovereign territory of their experience and (c) that to submit to God and His Christ was life and to continue to remain in rebellion to God was death. Jesus’s evangelistic model didn’t rely on convincing people they were sinners or on convincing people how much their Father loved them – He simply modeled that God existed and was Good. After modeling the character of God and explaining what life in the Kingdom was like, Jesus let people make their own decisions.

I think we are called to do the same.

I think we are called to let people know what life in the Kingdom is like, according to the Bible. I think we are called to display and declare the character of our King. I think we are called to proclaim and demonstrate that God is and that God is Good.

I know of no better way to do that than what we in the Vineyard call “Power Evangelism,” that is – using the gifts of the Spirit to provide an unbeliever with a God encounter. It might be prophecy, healing or a supernaturally empowered act of compassion – but whatever it is, it lets that person know that God sees them, knows them, loves them and wants them.

Once people have encountered God, their hearts are open to receiving the Gospel message. It is at this point that a clear, concise and rational presentation of the Gospel is in order. Power evangelism is never anti-rational, it is super-rational, that is, it is rational and experiential and appeals to much more than the mind, but the spirit, soul and body as well. The reason we need to present an accurate Scriptural portrayal of the Kingdom is simple – that person needs to decide wether or not they want to follow Jesus as their King and live by His laws. Some people do. Some people don’t. Either way, that isn’t for us to decide. We are called to present the Gospel, make disciples and teach those disciples to obey what Jesus commanded. It is Holy Spirit’s job to convert. It is our job to make converts into disciples.

For me, this process is what addresses the theological component of “sin,” “sinner” and “saint.” This type of evangelism deals with the issues of allegience, loyalty and the kingliness of Jesus. In the course of this God encounter people might also get a glimpse of their moral short comings, much like Peter did when Jesus provided him with the miraculous catch of fish – that is good, but it isn’t the goal. Our goal is to accurately display the Reality of the Kingdom and the heart of our King and to invite them to “come and see” or “follow Me.”

This is what I have become convinced of and what I intend to put to the test over the next few months. I’ll be sure to write about my encounters and let you know how it goes.

Thanks for reading friends.

Prayer Target Challenge Finished

Hi friends,

Thank you to everyone who participated in our 6 week Prayer Target Challenge asking for salvation and deliverance for the men and women of the Islamic State. Life continues to be difficult in the Iraq and Syria as I.S. advances into new territory and consolidates power in existing strongholds. HOWEVER, we also have reports of our Christian brothers and sisters providing remarkable witness and testimony to the Lordship of Jesus, even to the point of death.

Even though the prayer challenge is finished, I invite you all to continue praying for salvation for the men and women of the Islamic State and power for our brothers and sisters on the front lines. This conflict is far from over and the eternal destiny of countless lives hang in the balance. Intercession is our most glorious privilege and our most labor-some work.

In our work of intercession, here is some encouragement for you from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians,

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ… And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.”

Whenever we pray, we always pray from a high place – seated with Christ on God’s own Throne and with the full resources of Heaven at our disposal. Intercession is not groveling to an angry or reticent God – it is strategizing with our Heavenly Father for the in-breaking of His Kingdom on the Earth. Intercession is a joyful privilege when we pray from Heaven because, when we see the Enemy’s plans from God’s perspective we understand what David said in Psalms 2, “The one enthroned in heaven laughs, the Lord scoffs at them [the ones conspiring and plotting against him].”

God is Almighty. God is Sovereign. What the Enemy intends for evil, He will use for good in the lives of those that love Him. Things look absolutely terrible on the earth right now, but God reigns Supreme over it all. His Kingdom will prevail AND we have a part to play. James tells us, “You do not have because you do not ask.” That is pretty startling really because it means that there are some things God would willingly give us, but only if we humble ourselves enough to ask for them. Things can turn out a number of different ways in the Middle East – I’m contending for the version that brings the most number of people into Eternal Life. I hope you will war for that with me.

Thanks for praying friends.

Ben