What I Meant To Say…

Another Monday and another stab at “What I meant to say.”

Yesterday was a compilation of one point sermons loosely stitched together to transition us from Advent back into our teaching series on The Story. Below are the consolidated points I was attempting to make.

God is looking for friends
In the 10 chapters of The Story that we have covered so far, we’ve seen that God has chosen to work out His plan of redemption through relationships with men and women. Whenever God finds a friend, the result is a quantum leap forward in redemptive history. We see this with Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, and so on. Men and women who are genuine friends of God seem to be few and far between, at least in the Old Testament and seem to be progressively more common as we journey through the Scriptures. The point I was trying to make is that God is looking for friends still today, what would it look like for a whole community to take up that call, not just a single man or woman?

God is looking for a dwelling place
It has long been God’s desire to dwell on earth and live among humanity. We see that in the Garden and we see that desire sustained through the Ark, the Temple, the Holy Spirit and the New Jerusalem. King David caught a glimpse of that desire and he dedicated the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars to make that happen. David has a tremendous revelation of the beauty and glory of God and how worthy God was to be praised night and day. This led David to establish 24/7 worship in the city of Jerusalem that lasted for decades. Every revival that lasted in Israelite history restored this form of worship, it is Heaven’s template for how God desires to be worshipped on the earth.

I believe it is totally possible, even the desire of God, to grace Vineyard Community Church with His Presence in this way. The vision that sustains me as a pastor is the picture of the Presence of God settling over our block and turning everything upside down. I can see hundreds of people making the worship of God their top priority. I can see college students, stay-at-home moms, grandparents and others coming to worship and pray early in the morning and late at night – crying out on behalf of their familes, friends, city, state and nation. God is looking for a group of friends willing to partner with Him in bringing about His plans and purposes. He desires His people to sincerely want to know what He is thinking and what He is feeling.

I believe that if we can tap into that, the very heart of God, it will transform us and our city.

We aren’t called to maintain the status quo
There is a way of living as a Christian that leaves one largely unchanged. We might acquire some bible facts, perform a few good deeds and possibly even get the tingles during worship, but we don’t look much different 10, 20 or 30 years down the road.

That is not what God has in store for us.

What I long for, what I am going for, is the type of relationship with God that Noah had, or David. People thought Noah was literally crazy when he warned the people of his day about the coming rain that would flood the earth – it had never rained before! Who would have thought water would fall from the sky rather than well up from the earth? David bore reproach and scorn for his zeal in desiring to love and serve God. He was disowned by his family, despised by his wife and went down in history as the man who danced practically naked before the Ark. But both of these men were dearly loved by God and saved the people around them from more than they could comprehend.

I don’t want a polite, easily understood spirituality that maintains a status quo of mediocrity. I want to be excellent. I want US to be excellent – lavish in our worship and unyielding in our pursuit of God’s heart. I want to pastor of a group of Christians that makes people nervous because they love so extravagently. I want to build and support and be part of a community of believers who will give up everything for the sake of the Gospel. Why not? What have we got to lose?

The Bible is a library, please know what you are checking out
I was more soap-boxish on this than I wanted to be and I think it was the most boring part of the sermon because of it – my apologies for that. This is an issue close to my heart though, because studying the Bible is the most reliable way of discovering God’s character that I know. And I mean studying, not just reading; wrestling with the Word should stimulate every part of our being – our intellect, our emotions, our experiences, even our bodies.

There are a lot of different types of literature in the Bible and I believe every single word of it is God’s revealed truth within it’s proper context. We have to read the Bible and make allowances for literary style (hyberbole, apocalypse, proverb) and context (the state the author is in while writing as well as how the book fits in the grand scheme of the Biblical narrative).

I think that is enough on that. 🙂

Hopefully those clarify things a little bit. As always, thanks for reading.

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Emory Favor

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Yesterday, December 26 of 2013, my wife gave birth to our first child, Emory Favor. My world was turned upside-down in an instant and I don’t think I have ever been more in love. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this new reality, hence a blog post! 😀

My wife and I have been waiting two full years for Emory. Around Christmas time in 2011, Dani woke up from a nap and heard The Lord say, “Emory Favor” in her spirit. She knew instantly that was the name of our first child. She also knew it would be a boy because she “saw” the spelling. No one in our family has that name, so we knew God was intentionally trying to tell us something.

Emory means “home strength” and also “powerful” and “brave”. We felt those were specific words over our son’s life as well as things God wants to do in the lives of our family and friends. We believe God is in the process of making strong homes – mothers, fathers and singles who love one another well and are able to welcome children (biological, adopted, foster and spiritual) into their families as an earthly representation of God adopting us into His family. Family is a powerful redemptive force and requires bravery and courage for everyone involved.

Emory’s middle name is Favor, more a declaration than a name really. We believe that Emory is supernaturally favored by God. That may sound grandious, but he is my son, so deal. 😉 In all truthfulness, we feel like God has shown favor to us by blessing us with such a gift and we feel that His grace and favor will overflow into our family, congregation and city. We are declaring that this is a favored place in the heart of God.

So that is a little of Emory’s backstory, but I really want to write about what happened yesterday.

We went to bed Christmas night with the anticipation that Emory was coming soon. We asked our midwife, Leilani, to sleep over at our house in case. We laid down around 9:30 and by midnight we were downstairs, Dani having some powerful contractions. Her water broke about 1:40am and that is when I called in some reinforcements. My sister Caitie and our friends Ieshia and Morgan all drove through the middle of the night from different places around Iowa to come and help – I can’t thank them enough, it was so great to have them around. Leilani’s husband, Ken, also came over for support which was awesome.

As you may have figured out, we had a home birth. I’ll admit now that I was a little nervous about it, but having now gone through it, I wouldn’t do it any other way unless absolutely necessary. It was magical. The seven hours from water breaking to baby coming out flew by. Dani pushed for 2 and a half hours and it felt like minutes. She was exhausted by the end (go figure), but she rocked the birth like a champ. Dani never flipped out or lost her cool. When the contractions came she was focused and fierce; and when they left, she was her normal happy and funny self. She didn’t have any drugs or any interventions, she went totally natural. I have never been more impressed with Dani. I know she is an amazing woman, but D***. She delivered Emory in a squatting position, me seated behind her and her arms wrapped around my legs, and all of our friends waving flags and singing to Jesus. The Presence of God in our home was palpable. Then came the main event…

Seeing my son come out of my wife’s body is the single most amazing thing I have ever seen. Period.

Nothing in my experience compares to the sheer power and awesomeness of seeing a woman give birth. The closest I can come is when I was baptized with the Holy Spirit and that was awesome and emotional, but in a different way. This was primal and real and right. And seeing Dani pick up our son, towel him off and, with cord still attached, begin to rock him and tell him how much she loved him – that is something I will cherish forever. I am glad we made the decisions we did because it allowed for a life-changing experience. Home birth may not be for everyone, but it is the right thing for us.

We weren’t in a rush to get Emory weighed or measured – we had more important things to do, like hold him and kiss him and rest skin-to-skin. Mommy and Daddy sat and watched the little guy as the placenta worked its way out. Emory was so alert and so quiet. He has the most beautiful blue eyes. It was fun to look him over and see both Dani and I in him. So far, he seems to have his daddy’s hairline, nose, mouth and frame. He got his fingers, toes and chin from his momma.

Emory is a big boy, 9lbs and 21inches long. His head is 13.75 inches around and his chest 14. He’s built like a tank. That may or may not seem like a large baby to you, but my wife is 5′ nothing and all of 100lbs soaking wet. She gained 40lbs this pregnancy and he was a quarter of it. Seeing a baby that big come out of a woman that small seems impossible. Dani did have some tearing from the birth and lost enough blood to warrant some additional fluids, so an ambulance ride and some sutures later, mommy came back to give the little guy a snack. He wasn’t a super strong nurser from the start, but he is getting it. He has an amazingly patient mom who is a gifted teacher, he will be fine. It seems like he needed to get some amniotic fluid out of his stomach before he really worked up an appetite.

Dani’s parents came up yesterday and her mom stayed overnight which was a huge blessing. She worked the “grandma shift” and took a fussy baby from 3:30am to 7 so that an exhausted mommy and daddy could sleep a few hours. That was so helpful. Things seem less desperate when you aren’t sleep deprived.

Today he has been sleeping and nursing and looking cute. Thanks to everyone who has been praying for us, we know it helped. I’ll try to keep you all updated. You can also follow us on Facebook (BenDani Dau) or check out my wife’s blog (beholdtobecome.wordpress.com) for more.

Thanks for reading friends. Love you all. Ben

Heavy Smoke

I had a revelation recently while I was on retreat in the woods of northeastern Iowa. I was walking through my old Bible camp, smoking a pipe I had just purchased to celebrate the birth of my son and reflecting on the last 16 years of my life, since I had been awakened to God’s Presence in this place. The woods were silent and still, untrod by any human but me since the snow had fallen. The smoke from my pipe hung heavy in the hollow, adding hints of hazelnut and vanilla to the woodsmoke from my cabin. It was surreal in the most beautiful way I can imagine.

I was working my way up to the main campfire ring on the central plain of camp when I noticed the smoke from my exhale was see through and airy, easily dispersed as it wafted up and away disappearing from sight. As is the case with most pipe smokers, you pay attention to these clues. So, I got out my tamper, lightly pressed the puffed up ash into contact with the tobacco at the bottom of the bowl and took several long draws through the stem until the smoke was substantial once again. I was about to go on my way when I felt the hand of Holy Spirit keep me in place just a moment longer.

I don’t know if it was my attitude, the pristine setting or the Presence of God in that place, but something about that moment came alive for me. I began to see a very clear correlation between my hobby of pipe smoking and my vocation as a pastor.

You see, as a pastor, words are my living. Prayers, stories, questions – all these require spoken words in order to be shared with my congregation. And too often, at least to me, my words come out like that smoke on the plain – thin, airy, easily dispersed, leaving little impact or lasting aroma. Perhaps no one else can tell, but they don’t need to. I can because I’m looking for the signs.

I started pipe smoking as a way to relax, mediate and pray. I joke that I got the idea from God in Revelation 5:8 where the Elders are holding golden bowls of incense (a mixture of burning leaves and herbs) which rise up to God as a pleasing smell, a symbol of the prayers of the saints. I liked the idea and used pipe smoking as a way to help me focus of prayer. Obviously, this is not for everyone – I’m just sharing my experience.

In any event, my personality requires a lot of quiet time to process thoughts and form ideas, and when I don’t tend to that inner fire through prayer, meditation, scripture reading and study the fire stays at a surface level, it doesn’t begin to touch the deep things in me. This results in airy words. Those aren’t the kind of words I want to say. We have enough of those kinds of words already. I want to speak and write the sort of words that hang in the hollow, that have substance and weight. I want to release words that will flavor the environment with the fragrance of Heaven. And in order to speak those kinds of words I have to be pressed down deep into the interior life through the disciplines mentioned above. In 2,000 and more years of history, God’s people have found no shortcuts to intimacy and relationship. It is ‘a long obedience in the same direction’ as Eugene Peterson puts it.

So I have an image now, a way of envisioning things that helps me keep my focus on the right things. When I realize my words as a pastor are more me than Him, more American than Heavenly, then I know I have too long neglected my inner fire. I need to tamp down my soul and breathe deep the Holy Spirit. For I am convinced that if my words are pungent with prayer, are thick with the Grace of God, and carry the fragrance of Heaven then people will notice and they will respond.

As always, thank you for reading.

Conviction from the Holy Spirit

As we walk of a life of Christian repentance, being confronted with the Realities of who God is and adjusting our internal and external world accordingly, we must learn to hear the voice of conviction from the Holy Spirit and distinguish it from the voice of condemnation which comes from the Enemy. Yesterday’s post was not particularly helpful in establishing that distinction, so I thought a follow up post would help.

Holy Spirit fills a multitude of roles within the Christian’s life. Holy Spirit is Teacher, Comforter, Helper, Counselor, and Advocate. Holy Spirit also convicts us of sin (John 16:8) and helps us repent accordingly. But if Holy Spirit is the one that convicts us of sin, doesn’t that mean He is out to get us and make us feel guilty? No, it doesn’t.

When a criminal is convicted of a crime, it means that a case has been convinvingly presented which shows that he or she has broken the law. This is what Holy Spirit does – He brings to our awareness the fact that we have indeed broken God’s Law in some way. The appropriate response at this point is to repent – we have been confronted with new Reality (internal change of heart/mind) which ought to lead to a change in behavior (external appearance). There is no need to beat yourself up or play the event over and over in your mind. Rather, confess your sin and God, who is faithful and just, will forgive your sin and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

However, when we sin, the Enemy tries to convince us to listen to his voice rather than Holy Spirit’s. The process starts out similarly, we become aware that we have broken God’s law and fallen short of His standards for us. However, rather than bringing us to a place of repentance and confession, the Enemy wants to bring us to a place of guilt and condemnation. Condemnation goes one step farther than conviction, it prescribes a punishment. That punishment tends to make us feel worse and worse, we circle the drain, abuse ourselves with thoughts of ‘how could you?’ or ‘Again? Why can’t you get your stuff in order?’. We begin to feel distant from God, certain that He is angry and wrathful over our sin, and take it upon ourselves to suffer punishment until we have atoned for our sin. Many Christians believe they should feel like a terrible person when they sin, so the Enemy deceives many of us with distressing ease.

I’ve found that knowing the difference between conviction and condemnation helps stop me from going along with the Enemy’s plan. Another thing that helps be recover a right perspective is to remember the words of Isaiah 53, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” The reason Holy Spirit convicts us but does not condemn us is because the punishment that would rightfully fall on us as sinners was, instead, placed upon Jesus at the Cross. To punish us now would be unjust, because Jesus intervened and took our place.

I hope this clarifies the role of Holy Spirit in the process of conviction, confession and repentance. Holy Spirit makes us aware of our sin, comforts us with the promises of Scripture, helps us confess to our Heavenly Father and advocates for us once we have been washed and restored to right standing with Dad. The conviction of Holy Spirit always draws us closer to God, He never drives us farther away.

As always, thank you for reading.

What I Meant to Say… About Repentance

Hello there friends and happy Monday to you all. Today’s post is a refinement and clarification of what I shared yesterday about repentance and how it affects our church culture and method of evangelism. Since I tend to write better than I speak, I decided to take a page out of Dave Workman’s book and start a Monday morning blog series entitled “What I Meant to Say…” to clear up Sunday’s sermon and potentially retract or reword things I said the day before. Dave is a Vineyard pastor out of Cincinatti, Ohio and has some great practical wisdom for inexperienced preachers like myself. With that disclaimer for the series, here we go!

Introduction
Up to this point, whenever I have heard the word ‘repentance’ it has always produced a knee-jerk reaction of guilt and shame. I tended to revisit all my previous sins, think about how much Jesus had to suffer just because of me and vowed to do better. I also went through a season where I tried to work up feelings of remorse and contrition and believed I had never truly repented of my sins until I was a blubbering mess. That phase didn’t last too long because I could never work myself into that sort of mental state and left my time of confession before God more depressed than when I went in.

In my study of the words ‘repent’ and ‘repentance’ this week, I came to understand why I associated feelings guilt and shame with those particular words.

The Modern Understanding of Repentance
The English word ‘repent’ comes from the french words ‘re’ and ‘pentir’. ‘Pentir’ means “to feel sorrow” and ‘re’ means “again”. To feel sorrow again (and again and again) is the original meaning of the modern word ‘repent’. The words ‘repent’ and ‘repentance’ came into use during a particularly dark time in church history. Between 1250 and 1350, the words grew in popularity along with the Catholic doctrines of purgatory and indulgences. The general thought was that if you didn’t repent “enough” then your sins would follow you into death and you would enter into a place called “Purgatory” – a sort of low grade torture chamber designed to further “purify” someone before they could qualify to get into heaven. To oversee this system of repentance/penance the Catholic church empowered certain priests to be ‘penitenciaries’. These men heard people’s confessions of sin, deemed wether or not they were truly contrite and, if so, prescribed the proper form of penance – prayers, money, self-flagulation, whatever.

As this doctrine spread, churches began to be known as ‘penitentiaries’ (pronounced the same as the word above describing the priests). “Penitent-iary’ literally means “a place for penitent ones.” This word became associated with prisons during a period of reform within the prison system. The idea was to make prison like a monastery where inmates would fast, pray and meditate on their sins in order to produce life change. This is also why their rooms became known as “cells.”

Interesting historical facts aside, did you catch it? This way of understanding repentance produced a system of sin management and fear and eventually led to the church functioning as a prison! That is not the Gospel! It is also not the biblical understanding of the word “metanoia” the greek word we translate into English as “repent”.

A Biblical Understanding of Repentance
“Metanoia” literally means “after/with understanding”. It became associated with the notion of repentance because after someone had been confronted with a new reality, a new understanding of the world, it was supposed to cause them to live differently. Metanoia came to mean “change after understanding”.

So when Jesus and John the Baptist say “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” they are saying ‘God’s superior power is breaking into the world all around you, life as you know it will soon cease to exist – how will you live in response to that!?’ Before Jesus, during John the Baptist’s ministry, the only thing people could do was confess their sins, get washed in water as a symbol of their clean hearts and intentions and then live a life of expectancy looking for the Messiah. When Jesus came on the scene, he demonstrated that we could have a much more interesting and interactive involvement with God’s Kingdom breaking in all around us… but that it a different post altogether.

Does metanoia carry with it undertones of sorrow and grief over past sins? Absolutely. But it is primarily a cognitive word, the change that is produced externally happens because of a paradigm shift within the mind. The Apostle Paul captures this perfectly in Romans 12, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (emphasis mine). Transformation through revelation is the heart of biblical repentance (metanoia). As we are confronted with new truths about the character of our Father, the nature of His Kingdom and who we are because of Him we will have to adjust and come into alignment with those things. In this way, the Christian life is a non-stop journey of repentance. And we will go on repenting into eternity as we discover new truths about this endless and fascinating God we call Father.

How This Effects Our Congregation’s Culture
Christ died to set us free. Through the Cross, God removed our sins from us as far as the East is from the West, He threw them into the Sea of Forgetfulness, He washed us clean by the Blood of the Lamb. Whatever metaphor or Bible verse you want to use, the message remains, our sins (past and present) have been paid for, in full, by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus! I believe this means that they are totally destroyed and they no longer have power over us. So why would we want to perpetuate a culture of bondage to sin through an unhealthy understanding of repentance? Why would we want to keep reliving the things Jesus died for? When we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his life, his death and his resurrection – through Him we ourselves died to sin, why should we live for it any longer?

Do people make messes that need to be cleaned up? Yes. Yes they do. And repentance is the process of cleaning up that mess, mending relationships and making wrong things right to the best of our ability. Sure, there are going to be some feelings of remorse that enter in – as there should be when we damage our relationships with God or other people – and apologies will have to be made, but the focus isn’t on feeling bad, the focus in on cleaning up your mess and moving forward.

We refuse to hold people’s past sins over their heads here at VCC. We refuse to do that because we don’t believe Daddy does it. If you’ve repented – cleaned up your mess, sought restored relationship and are committed to living differently – then that case is closed, never to be brought up again.

How This Effects Our Methods of Evangelism
There are lots of ways to evangelize and spread the Good News about Jesus. I am partial to some over others and some I think are downright ridiculous and ineffective.

When John the Baptist ministered, he interacted differently with different groups of people. To the regular, run of the mill sinner, John confronted them with the Reality of God’s Kingdom and the coming Messiah. He taught them how to give up their past ways of sinful living and be made right with God so that they could enter fully into God’s purpose for their life.

When John interacted with the Pharisees it was a different story. John insulted them, called them a brood of vipers (children of the devil), said they needed to repent and bear fruit or else God was going to cut them down and throw them on the fires of hell. Guess how many Pharisees became followers of John? None. It wasn’t that John’s message was untrue, it was simply that his method of presenting that truth was ineffective. Interestingly, Jesus used the same methods as John when interacting with the Pharisees, and very few Pharisees followed Jesus.

We see this “turn or burn” approach used today – perhaps most famously by Westboro Baptist Church, the “God Hates Everything” people. How attractive do they make God look? Again, parts of their message are true, but their methods are totally bogus. We have to remember that Jesus is the Way as well as the Truth.

The way Jesus ministered to people is the way I want to minister and the way I want our congregation to minister. The way Jesus ministers looks a lot like love, forgiveness, compassion, service and healing. These radical methods of sharing the love of God brought people face to face with the Kingdom of God. They were confronted with a new Reality – God is real, He loves me, He isn’t angry or disappointed with me, He is willing to do anything and everything it takes to make a way for me to come home. That is the way the truth should be presented, it should bring life and lead people to the Father.

It isn’t my job to convict people of their sins or convince them that they are dirty, rotten scumbags – that is the Holy Spirit’s job. My job is to love people in such a way that they become aware that they are being encountered by the God who loves them. My job is to carry the Kingdom of God with me wherever I go so that people are confronted with a new way, a better way, of living. Like John the Baptist, my job is to tell them that if they are willing to leave behind the life they have been living, then the God who loves them will be able to bring them into the plans and purposes that He has for them which are so much greater than the plans they have for themselves.

Closing
There is a way of talking about and living out repentance that keeps people slaves to their sin – I don’t want any part of that. I want to talk about and live out repentance in a way that brings freedom. I want to believe every word in the Bible and those words say that when I submitted my life to Jesus and chose to serve Him and Him alone then He claimed me as His own and, in doing so, He freed me from my slavery to sin and made me a son in the Household of God. “Who the Son sets free is free indeed!” I’ve been set free by the Son of God and it is my sincerest desire to see others set free by the Truth of the Gospel.

God has not called His Church to be a prison camp of sin management. He has called us to be sons and daughters set free from sin by the power of the cross, those continually being transformed into the likeness of Jesus as we encounter new truths about who God is and how much He loves us. God has called us to be bearers of Good News, partners in the work of the Kingdom and friends to His Beloved Son. That is a life worth living. That is a call worth pursing. And it all begins with the simple and powerful act of repentance.