Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target

Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target is a 10 minute teaching by a man named Arthur Burk. You can watch it here I really like Arthur’s stuff. Some folks might think it is “strange,” “weird” or “out there,” but I have found it to be practical, Biblically grounded and, above all, effective.

Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target (for those of you who chose not to watch the video) works like this:

(1) Choose a prayer trigger. Something that annoys the crap out of you is ideal.

(2) Choose someone to pray for (your prayer target). Go for the highest of the high or the lowest of the low. Choose someone you admire, respect and want to be like or choose someone so wicked you know it would be a miracle for them to find Jesus. If you chose the Godly person, pray for intimacy and/or power. If you chose the unGodly person, pray for salvation.

(3) Whenever you are triggered, launch out a 3 second prayer at your target. It can be spoken or unspoken. The key is to keep it short so that you can do it quickly and often.

(4) Give it two weeks and review. If you aren’t triggering often anymore, choose a new trigger, keep the same target. Expect things to get worse before they get better.

Here is an example from my life.

Prayer Trigger: lustful thoughts (I work out at a college gym three times per week and have the opportunity to be triggered about every 30 seconds.)

Prayer Target: power for Bill Johnson, pastor of Redding, CA

Whenever I’m triggered (i.e. am aware of a lustful thought) I launch out this prayer: “Power for Bill. Make cancer flee at his touch.” I sometimes pray more or for others things, but that is my “go to” prayer. I got really aggressive with this and started launching out prayers between every set, regardless of trigger. Pretty soon, I was lifting with all dudes – seriously.

What I need to remember, though, is that beautiful women aren’t my enemy. Lustful thoughts are. I’ve been at this for about a week and have noticed a marked decrease in triggers, both in the gym and outside it. I’ll let you know how the next week goes.

Until then, have at it and let me know your experiences.

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What Is Money?

[Disclaimer: This is more of a philosophical type of post. If you’re into that kind of thinking, this post is for you. If not, skip to the bottom bolded section for the take-away.]

What is money?

I’ve been stewing on that question since it was posed to me in a book I am reading. The book, “Thou Shall Prosper” was written by Rabbi Daniel Lapin and explores the Jewish understanding of wealth and business. It is a fascinating read and one that I would recommend to anyone who wants to understand the inherent morality and ethics of business. But I digress…

What is money?
Is money the green sheets of paper in my wallet? Or perhaps the bits of round metal with faces on them? What about personal checks or debit cards? For that matter, what about PayPal? Is money the binary code in my bank’s accounting system or is it something else entirely? How is it that something which governs so much of our lives so difficult to quantify?

The little bits of paper and metal I carry around are not money for they have no value to anyone who doesn’t share my same cultural standards. For instance, I couldn’t buy a bottle of water with a U.S. $1 bill in the mountains of Tanzania because the merchant didn’t have any use for non native currency – she was skeptical and didn’t think it was “real”. All the dollar bills in my wallet wouldn’t have gotten me that water. I had to give her what she understood was money, which, consequently, meant nothing to me. Clearly, the various things I mentioned above are not money in and of themselves, but they do represent money. A dollar bill is a tangible representation of an intangible quality called money.

How money is made
Let’s set aside the question “what is money?” for the time being to ask an easier question – how does one get money? There are a couple of options: (1) you can “make” it by creating your own currency, (2) you can steal various representations of it from others, (3) it can be given to you as a gift, or (4) it can be given to you as payment for an act of service.

Item one is impractical for our purposes and item two is reprehensible and outside the scope of Christian ethics. That leaves items three and four, gift and payment and they boil down to one thing – pleasing another person.

If someone gives you a gift, it is either because they like you and want you to know it or it pleases them to give the gift in the first place. Either way, the gift (in this case money) is just a tangible expression of pleasure and delight.

If someone gives you money, not as a gift, but as an obligation, then that means you performed some type of service for them which they are grateful for. Sure, they may be grumpy about paying you your wage, but they would rather pay you to roof their house than have to pay someone else to clean up the damage from the storm and replace their belongings. All work is ultimately a form of service. It is you meeting the need of another human being through your own creativity, skill or strength. And money is the way that person shows their gratitude and says “thank you.”

But isn’t a simple “thank you” enough? Not in our specialized world. If we lived in a time or place where everyone provided for all their own needs it would be the owner of the house up on the roof while you were on the roof of your own house, or perhaps laboring in the field. But our culture has diversified labor and allowed people to specialize so it is essential that there be a means of exchange where your skill and ability in one area easily translates into all types of provision for yourself and your family, hence, money. And since your work meets a need the other person has but is unwilling or unable to do for themselves, it only follows that the money you earn is their way of saying “thank you and job well done.”

How money is lost
Money comes in by pleasing another person. How then is money lost? Where does it go?

Clearly, money is used to provide for our wants and needs. Basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, warmth and transportation all take up a portion of our incomes. In addition, there are various luxuries we can indulge in – entertainment, recreation, comfort, etc.

Then there are hidden and unexpected costs – accidents, sickness, speeding tickets. A great multitude of things can drain away our finances. What is sometimes harder to see if that these “emergencies” or “crises” are really just another form of indulgence – what I will call “laziness” or “unrighteousness.”

How money is kept
At any given point in time, the amount of money someone has is the result of in-come minus out-go. When someone has more in-come than out-go, the balance is positive. When someone has more money going out than coming in, the balance is negative, also called debt. What is important to understand is that the balance of the in-come/out-go equation is a moral problem, not a mathematical one.

What I mean is this. If someone has a negative balance, meaning they are spending more than they are making, it means that they are consuming more than they are contributing – they are taking away from society more than they are giving to it. Using the phrases from above, they are not making many people happy and are, instead, leveraging the goodwill of their neighbors in order to satisfy their own desires and make themselves happy. That is both selfish and unjust.

Many times, it is not the in-come that is the problem, it is the out-go. We are all created to do good works and please people. We are wired to derive joy and self-respect from meeting the needs of others. But we are also wired to crave comfort. If someone lacks self-control, then their craving for comfort will unravel their life.

A craving for comfort without self-control results in spending money you don’t have on things you don’t really need. A craving for comfort without self-control means you don’t do the hard, but necessary, things you need to do to take care of yourself – like working out and eating healthy food. A craving for comfort without self-control means you place yourself above others and think that the rules don’t apply to you. Ultimately, a craving for comfort that is not subdued by self-control results in you not making people happy because they feel taken advantage off, disrespected and unloved and this results in a negative balance, a lifestyle of debt in a vicious downward spiral.

Conversely, someone who makes people happy and is able to control their various appetites finds themselves flourishing in every regard. Every month finds their bank account growing – an indicator that they have self-control (they aren’t needlessly spending to satisfy desire), wisdom (they are thinking long term and doing the hard but necessary tasks life requires) and humility (they enjoy serving other people). The Bible might call this net result of self-control, wisdom and humilty “righteousness.”

What is money?
Money is a number attempting to amalgamate various character traits (such as wisdom, humility, integrity and self-control) into a comprehensible whole. It doesn’t capture the whole picture or tell the whole truth, but it is a remarkably streamlined way of broadcasting one’s character to the world.

The Bible is pretty clear that money (wealth) is a by-product of righteousness. Someone who is honest, hard working, self-controlled and who loves to serve ought to have money. Someone who is lazy, controlled by desire/addiction, and lacks wisdom ought not to have money.

Wealth, accumulated money, is really a measure of one’s wisdom and righteousness. Someone who has accumulated money over time has pleased a lot of people, lived with self-control and has lived among others a life of virtue and excellence. Their large bank account is just one measure that indicates their greatness of spirit. If someone were to take that money away, it would soon return if given enough time for it is man who makes the money, not money who makes the man.

Odds and Ends
The train of thought I’ve presented here is my best understanding of what the Bible teaches about money and wealth. The Bible assumes that wealth will be a by-product of wisdom and righteousness (see Proverbs). The Bible also wrestles with the notion that wicked people do prosper in this world (see Psalms and Proverbs). David and Solomon both point out that though wickedness may seem to prosper in the short term, it will never pan out over time. Even though there are a depressing number of wicked men with wealth in America, the Bible stands firm – pursuing wisdom and righteousness are the only ways to build lasting wealth.

Building wealth over time is a noble goal, one I wish more Christians would pursue. Unfortunately, much of the Church in America has been stricken with a poverty mentality – the idea that money is bad/dirty and that someone having money means another person doesn’t. It doesn’t work that way. One man being righteous doesn’t deplete the amount of righteousness available to anyone else and so it is with money. Both righteousness and money grow when people interact with one another’s best interest in mind.

One may come to the conclusion from reading this article that wealth is an indicator of righteousness and poverty a sign of wickedness. Though there seems to be a strong correlation between the two, there are too many factors at play to establish causation. Accidents do happen – good, hardworking people get sick and lazy leeches win the lottery. But again, over time, money has a way of redistributing itself and it tends to find its way into the hands of those who are wise in stewarding it.

None of this is to say, however, that we shouldn’t be generous to those who have less than we do – quite the contrary! Generosity has curious ways of generating wealth… you have made someone happy haven’t you and pleasing another person is a precursor to in-come. I’ve never met anyone who has given away a lot of money who did not first have a lot of money to give away. Wealth is the first step towards the wonderful virtues of generosity and benevolence. We must never assume that someone is facing hard times because of character deficiency, we must always be generous. Poverty is a cruel enemy. The greatness of a nation is in its ability to elevate the circumstances of the poor. That is not to say that all will have the same (aka communism), for some will always have more than others, but we can take large steps towards ensuring that no one has to sleep cold, hungry or naked and we can definitely ensure that person can wake up to the fulfilling task of making others happpy, if they choose to do so.

The 3 kinds (or uses) of tithe

I’ve been on a bit of a financial kick here recently and I’m continually amazed at the stuff I didn’t know was in the Bible. I feel like I am learning new things every day as I read and study and think. With that said, I’d like to share a few things with you and also note that my thinking and opinions will likely change as I continue to study.

I’ve never hesitated to say that I am a fan of tithing. Even before I became a pastor and earned a living serving a church I was a fan of tithing. It is something that makes sense to me and I’ve never understood why people are so against it. But talking about tithing gets more people upset than just about anything else. Simply google “perspectives on tithing” and you will come up with all sorts of arguments and opinions. Some of them are quite enlightening, others not so much. This isn’t intended to be a “be all, end all” sort of article, I just want to share some interesting things I’ve learned.

First, what I initially thought was a cut and dried subject is anything but. I figured there was only one way to understand tithing and tithing was only for one purpose – wrong. It turns out there are (at least) three different things the tithe is used for in the Law: provision for the priests and levites, a mandatory celebration in Jerusalem, and offerings to the poor. (see Numbers 18:21-31 and Deuteronomy 14:22-29)

Offering to the Priest and Levites
This is what I first think of when I think of the tithe. Since the Priests and Levites were forbidden from owning property, the only way they could make a living was from their work at the Temple. Thus, God commanded that the Priests and Levites were to receive a portion of whatever was brought to the Temple for sacrifice. Essentially, this tithe paid for the work of the priests/Levites and the upkeep of the Temple.

The Party-Tithe
Deuteronomy 14:22-27 is a pretty fascinating passage in regards to the tithe. It is so good I’ve copied it below:

Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other strong drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.

Rabbinic tradition suggests that each use of the tithe was tied to the time remaining until the Sabbath year. For instance, the offerings to the priests happened in years 1 and 4, the party-tithe happened in years 2 and 5 and the third use, offerings to the poor, happened in years 3 and 6, the seventh year no one worked, thus no tithes.

This means that twice every seven years, the Jews of Israel collected their tithes (either hard goods or their equivalent monetary value) and headed to Jerusalem to “eat in the Presence of the LORD”, that is, within the walls of the city. Those that brought their tithe in monetary form were able to buy “whatever their heart desired” and were required to spend the entire amount on food and strong drink so that they could celebrate and rejoice in the LORD’s Presence.

How wild is that!?

Can you imagine taking a tenth of your income and throwing a party because it was required of you as a form of worship? And can you imagine each of your guests bringing a tenth of their yearly income and using it to make the party even better? That would be sheer craziness! And that is exactly what God commanded the Jews to do. The party was supposed to be so big, so lavish, that it would take at least a week to do correctly and they were to invite everyone – the poor, the priests, the levites, the widows and whoever else was around – so that the whole city would rejoice in the goodness of God.

Offerings to the Poor
In years 3 and 6 (see Deuteronomy 14:28-29), the Israelites were to bring their tithes into their local storehouses. As opposed to the other years where the tithe went to Jerusalem, this was a time to fill out the food pantries in the local community. Anyone who had a legitimate need was allowed to access the stored food over the next couple of years. The poor, the widows, the foreigners, even the Levites, were allowed to come and live off of the bounty of God’s people. It is a beautiful system that allowed the people to tangibly better the lives of those in their communities by prospering themselves.

Those are the uses of the original Biblical tithe as far as I can tell. The concept of tithing appears to change when the Israel sets up the kingship – the tithe becomes a type of tax where a portion goes to the king and the rest to the Temple.

Some other thoughts…

Jews don’t tithe. Many Jewish Rabbis consider it a sin for Jews to tithe because there is no Temple and no Levitical priesthood. That isn’t to say that Jews don’t give away money – they certainly do, lots of it! – it’s just that you will never hear a Rabbi talk about tithing during their corporate gathering.

Should Christians tithe? Yes. Here is why: God is an extravagantly generous giver and we are made in His image. Therefore, we should give extravagantly. Though it might not seem like it to you right now, giving away 10% of your income is not extravagant, but it is a good place to start. But whatever you give, give it cheerfully and not under compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:7) and give according to your income (1 Corinthians 16:2). If you make a lot, give a lot. If you make a little, give at least ten percent – God will bless your remaining income and you wont be any more stretched than before.

Another reason I encourage Christians to tithe is 1 Corinthians 9:14, “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” If you have a pastor serving you, you are obligated to provide for them at least as well as the Jews did for the priests serving in the Temple (the context of Paul’s argument). If your pastor chooses to preach for free as Paul did, that choice accrues blessing for him or her, but your obligation remains. And chances are that if you have a pastor, then you have a building that needs to be maintained. And if you have a building, then the poor will come to it looking for help and they shouldn’t be turned away emptyhanded. Congregations need money to operate in our current church model. Others models exist, but if you attend a “regular” church there will be expenses that you need to help pay.

The Church’s Obligation
If individuals in a congregation have an obligation to give, the Church has the obligation to make sure it is used wisely and well. Based on the passages discussed above (Numbers and Deuteronomy) an ideal split would be in thirds – 1/3 covering staff and building expenses, 1/3 used to care for the congregation and have some outrageous parties and 1/3 to be given to the poor. I don’t know of any congregation that operates that way (mine certainly doesn’t), but it is a goal to shoot for. How amazing would it be to take 1/3 of the church’s income and use it to bless the city the church is in? How fun would it be to honor the LORD by celebrating with outlandish parties once in awhile? How nice would it be for the pastors who labor so hard for their congregations to be cared for with extravagant generousity?

I think a congregation can accomplish it’s main functions with the tithe of it’s people, so I highly encourage individuals to give above and beyond their tithe to other organizations. Support missionaries, give to charity, invest in start up businesses you believe in – whatever. Just look for opportunities to bless others in proportion to how you have been blessed.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And thanks again for reading!

Kingdom Finances: A Theology of Money

I love business. I think it is one of the most noble and worthwhile pursuits anyone can embark upon. Unfortunately, Christians have a bizarre and distorted view of money that has led us to demonize businessmen and women, leaving them to feel like second-class citizens whose only purpose and value is to fill the coffers on Sunday morning. To those who have ever struggled to come to terms with your desire to prosper and wonder if it is Godly or not, this post is for you.

To be totally frank, I have no idea what “The Prosperity Gospel” is. I hear disparaging remarks about it all the time, but I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone explain to me its core tenants. All I hear are snide remarks about “God wanting you to be healthy, wealthy and wise” as if that were a bad thing.

Hold on a second. Are you telling me God wants you to be sick, poor and stupid? I’m pretty certain God does want you to be healthy, wealthy and wise. Let’s take a closer look at those three.

(1) Healthy
If God doesn’t want His people healthy, why was such a large component of Jesus’s ministry healing the sick – healing all who came to him? Why did Jesus commission his disciples to go out and heal? Jesus healed out of compassion, out of love for people. And since Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing, he evidently saw it in the heart of God to heal people. Unless you have received a divine word of Judgment, assume that your sickness if from Satan, not from God.

(2) Wise
There are whole books of the Bible devoted to helping foolish people become wise. They are called Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. Collectively, the Jews refer to these books as Wisdom Literature. I think we can pretty well bank on God wanting His people to grow in wisdom.

(3) Wealthy
Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor.” He also said, “Blessed are you who hunger now,” yet a few chapters later, Jesus is miraculously feeding the multitudes. Why was he taking away their blessing!?

Jesus was clearly speaking in metaphor in the Beatitudes and Luke 6. Physical hunger has no virtue in it and neither does physical poverty. Lacking the basic necessities of life does not make you a blessing to other people, it makes you a burden.

We need only look to the Bible to see that many wealthy men followed God wholeheartedly – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Job. In ancient Jewish tradition, wealth was a seen as a requirement for the Spirit of God to rest on someone. In order to be a prophet, one had to be “strong, wise, wealthy and humble.” That is oral tradition and not Scripture, but I think it is appropriate to mention.

Christianity’s Mental Handicap
So you agree that God wants you to be healthy and wise, but still have trouble swallowing the idea that God wants you to be wealthy? Perhaps you’re remembering Jesus’s words to the rich young man, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Then come, follow me.”

We use and abuse this story in Christianity. We drag up every negative reference to money in Scripture and use it devoid of any context. The simple truth is that there is more about the Godly use of money and righteous business practices in the Bible than there is about any other topic.

Jesus gave that particular advice to that particular young man because his wealth had become an idol that prevented him from following Jesus. If your wealth ever becomes your master, that is the only recourse to follow – get rid of it! Your soul belongs to Jesus, not to Mammon. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that wealth prohibits us from following God.

Wealth and Eternal Rewards
Here is the more compelling piece to me. When the Master hands out various sums of money to his servants in Matthew 25, who are the ones that were rewarded? The ones who increased the amount of money they had! Even scarier, the one who did nothing with his Master’s money was thrown out of the Master’s Presence.

And let’s not lose sight of the fact that Jesus is in the middle of a discourse on the End Times. This is an End Times parable through and through. Jesus is talking about eternal rewards when he rewards the servants. The servants who were faithful to grow their Master’s money on the earth received significant heavenly rewards – they were put in charge of many things (entire cities in Luke) because they had the mindset to expand the Kingdom and developed administrative skills useful to the King.

Anyone who has ever handled significant amounts of wealth knows the burden it can be. Money has a way of revealing who and what we truly are. A generous person becomes a philanthropist. A greedy person hoards their wealth and eventually loses themselves to it. A wishy-washy person becomes absolutely paralyzed. Money makes us more of what we are, so it is of paramount importance that we are men and women of character. The servants who prospered in Jesus’s parable did so righteously. They didn’t steal any of their Master’s money to use for their own purposes, they didn’t squander it in foolish pursuits. They were trustworthy individuals who wanted to wisely secure the best return they could for their Master.

In reward for their character and faithfulness, the servants were promoted far beyond what they could have ever imagined. The newly crowned King had significant posts to fill in His Kingdom and needed people he could trust, people who had already proven their faithfulness and desire to serve.

I’ll admit, meditating on this passage has really rocked me. Up until this point I didn’t think God really cared what my bank account would be when I left this earth and went to be with him – I am rethinking that in light of this End Times money management parable.

Tithing, Saving and Investing
I am a huge fan of tithing – I think it is an essential part of Christian discipleship. Tithing is far more than an Old Testament Law – it is a Principle of Faith. The Principle of Tithing predates the Old Covenant by some 500 years. Tithing was instituted when Abraham encountered Melkizedek, Priest of God Most High. It was an act of faith and thankfulness that so moved God’s heart that He made it a permanent part of Jewish life from then on.

The way I understand tithing is this: Everything I get I receive from God, it is all His. However, He makes me a deal and says that if I will return 10% to His house then I can keep the rest. Giving 10% of my income to secure God’s blessing and favor on my financial life – absolutely!

Once I tithe, I can do what I want with my money. I can spend it all on whatever suits me, I can give it away, I can save it or I can invest it. At this point, it becomes my decision what to do with what I have. If I choose to live within my means in order to save or invest, that is my perogative.

So let’s say I save 10% of my income for a year. I now have a decent size chunk of change, is that wrong? No, of course not. Neither am I compelled to give it away. Money that would have otherwise been wasted on selfish desires can now become a tool to help myself and others.

Now let’s say I invest that money in the stock market (for simplicity’s sake). It is a good year and I make some money. My belief is that I should tithe from the interest that I earned, however large or small that amount may be. By tithing from my investments, I have now contributed to the Kingdom twofold: first from my initial tithe and second from my earned interest. I also have the potential to contribute even more in coming years as my investments increase and compound. Using money as a tool, I have made myself a better servant through wisdom.

Rather than saving, couldn’t I have just given it all away? Sure. But then I would have no savings or cushion for life. What if I or my wife got sick? I’d have to go into debt or ask for help from family and friends. I don’t want to be a burden to the people I care about, especially not if it is well within my power to prevent.

Tom’s Shoes is a good example. I once heard Blake Mycoskie, CEO of Tom’s Shoes, talk about his business during Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit. I don’t remember the actual figures used in the interview, but the theme of the conversation was this:

Blake had a sum of money. He could have used that money to put shoes on 1,000 kid’s feet, and that would have been noble. Instead, he started a business that puts 1,000 pairs of shoes on kid’s feet every year. There is a profitable servant.

Let’s look at another example. Say someone inherits a million dollars. They could sow it all into the Kingdom right away – and that would be great! They also would have nothing left to contribute at that point beyond what they were already doing. But instead, say they invested the million and sowed the interest into the Kingdom. It might take a decade before they had sown a million dollars, but now that money will continue to generate interest to finance the Kingdom for years, even decades, to come. I have nothing against short term impact, I think it is wonderful. But I’m primarily concerned with sustainability and building the infrastructure necessary to advance the Kingdom over the long haul. A million dollars can feed a lot of hungry people, but they will be hungry again tomorrow. If we haven’t built them a sustainable future we have only postponed their suffering, not solved it.

Financing the Kingdom
I want to help people discover a vision for financing the Kingdom. It is something that I am passionate about and that I think about often. King David sowed millions of dollars into the Temple and payed singers and musicians to worship God night and days for years. What if I could do the same with missions? What if I could accrue enough money in investments to pay out a million dollars a year to finance mission work throughout the world? What if I could fund my congregation so extravagantly that all our staff were well cared for, we never had to turn away people in need and we could house all the homeless in our city in apartments the congregation owned, free of charge?

I want people to dream big. I want people to have clear, ambitious and faith-full goals for their lives. I want people to start dreaming about sowing millions or billions of dollars into the Kingdom in their lifetime. Why not?

Perhaps those ideas are too big and too abstract. Then start at home. What would it look like for you to start a business in your town whose primary goal was to advance the Kingdom? Maybe you sell groceries, but you use a portion of your proceeds to fund a women’s shelter. Maybe you are an accountant, but you really want to minister to inmates. You might not be able to during tax season, but you can fund someone who can.

Money is not an impure or dirty thing. Money is the byproduct of righteousness. Doing business justly, treating people well and with a sincere desire to serve, supplying them with services they need or appreciate – this is business God’s way and it will build a loyal clientele and the natural byproduct of satisfied customers is income.

I believe the next wave of revival is going to come from the business sector. I hope we are ready for it. I hope we have men and women of character strategically positioned to reap a great harvest of souls and to finance a prayer and missions movement that will not end until Jesus returns. Amen.

What I Meant to Say – Being Born Again

I’m really coming to love my Monday “What I Meant to Say” posts. I don’t always get around to them, but I really should. It is nice to process and share any additional thoughts with you all.

I’ll start by saying that yesterday was amazing. I’d place it in my top three (top one?) favorite Sundays with you all. I don’t know all that was going on, but here is what stood out to me:

(1) Reclaiming Vineyard heritage in Worship
Erik, Ieshia and Dani led us in worship and it was super sweet. Erik broke out an old Vineyard song “Jesus, Holy and Anointed One” and it did my heart good. It reminded me that, at our core, the Vineyard is a worship movement devoted to singing simple love songs to Jesus. Very simply, we offer all that we are to Jesus, knowing that we are precious in his sight. We don’t need a world class sound and light show to have amazing worship – we need hearts that burn with passion for Jesus.

(2) We had some brand new believers with us
On Saturday, Waverly hosted its first ever Christian Music Festival called ReVibe – it was wonderful. The best part of it was that several people committed their lives to Christ for the first time. One of those people was at church worshipping with us (after having attended an 8am Mass at St. Mary’s) and her joy was contagious. I think everyone was riding high off of the ReVibe wave and we were primed to engage.

(3) God worked through my sermon
Pastor Kent told me as we transitioned into ministry time – “Just so you know, that was the best sermon you’ve ever preached.” That was really great to hear – it felt pretty normal to me, but it was the right word on the right day – praise Jesus for that! The notes from my sermon are included below. Unfortunately, the sermon was not recorded to some equipment malfunction.

(4) You guys responded in amazing ways during ministry time
We had TONS of people come over to the Prayer Wall to be the ministry team and IT WAS AWESOME! At first folks were hesitant to come, so I made the offer one more time. Evidently that was enough because we had a great response. It was so good to pray for God to refresh people, to fill them with His Spirit and to speak Truth over their lives. I’m aware that one person prayed to be born again and another asked to be baptized. It was a very tender time and made me so appreciate this part of Vineyard culture.

(5) We had powerful art
One of the speakers at ReVibe painted a picture as he delivered his sermon. By happenstance (wink wink) we were able to have the painting in the sanctuary during our worship service. It was a picture of Jesus clasping our hand and pulling us up and out of our yuck – how fitting! I don’t have my theology nailed down on this, but I believe the LORD works powerfully through art and other creative expressions… and we need more of it!!!!

(6) We are in a new season
It seems like our congregation is always in transition. It is apparent to Dani and I that we are in another new season. It feels like God has closed the previous chapter and is writing a new one – one entitled “BABY INFESTATION.” A number of folks have been having dreams/pictures/visions/feelings that our congregation is about to explode with new believers. God is totally taking the lead on this and we are trying to align with it and prepare ourselves. We’re doing that in two ways:

(a) Street Ministry – a number of us have been partnering with Heartland Vineyard in Cedar Falls to do Street Ministry on Thursday nights. It has been a beautiful time of seeing Jesus set people free. It is now time to bring it to Waverly. A little later in September we will start our own Street Ministry Program on Tuesday nights. Keep your eyes peeled for anouncements.

(b) Home Group – If we’re going to have babies, then we need to put them in families with Mamas and Papas. Dani and I are opening our home to the congregation to come and experience what life is like in the Kingdom. We’re going to eat together (potluck style – so bring something tasty!), worship, teach and minister to one another. So much of Christianity is heady, intellectual stuff, which certainly has its place – but if that is all we do when we get together it quickly becomes burdensome and boring. This is something different. This is relational and emotional experience. This is loving one another well and learning how to be family. This is connecting across generations and experimenting with being the people of God, not just learning about it in some abstract way. Dani and I both believe that home groups will quickly become an anchor for our congregation – places where people can come to rest and refresh and encounter God in different ways than they have before.

Those were the things that were stirring in my heart and part of what made this past Sunday so energizing to me. I’m curious what you all were feeling/experiencing, so if you were there – shoot me an email or leave a comment below. I love you guys. I love being your pastor. Thanks for all you do!

Ben’s Notes from Sunday – Part Two: A New Creation

Review Part One

*The discipleship journey starts with Jesus calling us to follow him.
*People can follow Jesus for a long time before they are “born again” and become a new creation.
*The Bible points out multiple times that becoming a Christian is a deliberate decision that happens after one has reasoned things through and weighed the cost and consequences.
*When a follower is ready to become a true disciple, they move on to the second stage of discipleship – being born again and becoming a new creation
*We get the phrase “born again” from Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus in John 3.

Being Born Again
*Depending on how long a person has been following Jesus (or in our case, coming to church or some other Christian activity like a home group or bible study), they may know a lot or very little about Jesus and the Bible.
*It is essential to know that, while Bible knowledge is important, head knowledge does not make one a disciple. There are people who have impeccable theology, yet their lives reflect that they have never been transformed by the One they claim to know. (Think of the Pharisees where Jesus says – “You diligently search the Scriptures, but refuse to come to me.”)
*The Normal Christian Life is a transformed life. Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” and “Love is the more excellent way.” Don’t be fooled by people who can quote a lot of Bible verses, make a good argument or who want to tell you all about their experiences with God. Those things are great, but if their life isn’t full of the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control) their discipleship is suspect. They might have good information, but weigh it carefully.

Being “born again” has four parts (synthesis of Acts 2 & 8):
*Repentance
*Belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior
*Baptism in Water
*Receiving the Holy Spirit
*All four are essential for proper functioning

Why Every Part is Necessary
*The four parts mentioned above are all mentioned in the Bible when someone is born again, or saved.
*Think of each part as a cylinder in your car.
When you have all four, everything fine, you can go wherever.
When you have three, you function well, but hills are hard
With only one or two, you can make it if everything is downhill.
*These four parts lay the foundation for the rest of your Christian life. If one or more of them is missing, something will come up that will keep you from progressing into freedom the way you want to.
*This list isn’t intended to be burdensome or to stratify “super Christians” from the rest. Every Christian in the New Testament is supposed to have all four parts. They can come at any time and in any order, the important thing is that all four things have happened.
*Many issues that surface in our walk with Jesus can be resolved by addressing one of the four aspects of being born again. Far from a ‘once and done’ mentality, these are truths we should revisit frequently

The Four Parts Explained
Repentance
*Biblically, repentance is expressed more through long-term life change than through momentary sorrow.
*It is important to confess our sins and acknowledge our guilt before God so that we can properly apprehend Jesus’s sacrifice and receive forgiveness, but the truth of our words will be backed up by our actions.
*Repentance is: (a) turning away from our former way of life, (b) confessing any past actions that we know to be contrary to the character of God, (c) asking for God’s forgiveness and (d) committing ourselves to living differently by God’s grace and power.

Believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior
*The book of Romans tells us “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
*If repentance is “turning from”, belief is “turning to.”
*At this point, the new believer swears their allegiance to Jesus as their Sovereign Lord. That sounds really mysterious, but what it means is this. From now on, the disciple consciously chooses to view themselves as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven living as a foreigner in their current location. They swear to uphold the laws of the Kingdom and accept Jesus’s words as final over their lives.
*The disciple must also believe that Jesus’s finished work on the Cross is more than adequate to pay for their sins: past, present and future.
*We are not our own, we were bought with a price
*If I were to ever change the name of our congregation, I would change it to “the Embassy” because this idea of citizenship is so important to me. (Tom and Maggie, sovereign territory in a foreign land – a place of safety and security, a place where that nation’s laws are in effect.)

Baptism in Water
*The disciple is fully immersed in water as a symbol of being dead and buried.
*Coming out of the water is symbolic of having been resurrected with Christ. The “old” person died and was buried in the waters of baptism. The “new” person is alive by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
*All past sins were washed away. All legal claims of the enemy were nullified. The person has a perfectly clean conscience before God and is an inheritor of the Kingdom of God with all of its benefits.
*Baptism is a sacrament, meaning that we believe it carries with it a significant impartation of grace. We believe that, in baptism, the Holy Spirit does a word of regeneration, or recreation, and makes the person new, hence, “born again.”
*We also believe that the disciple receives a measure of the Holy Spirit that allows them to begin manifesting and cultivating the fruit of the Spirit.

Receiving the Holy Spirit
*According to the Bible, it (sometimes) isn’t enough to simply be baptized in water – our conversion isn’t complete, we aren’t adequately equipped to live life they way God desires for us.
*In Acts 8 and again in Acts 19 we read accounts of people who believed in Jesus, were baptized in water, and still needed someone to lay hands on them and pray for them to receive the Spirit. NOTE: The assumption is that we receive the Spirit concurrently with our water baptism
*How does one know if they need to receive the Spirit?
(1) If you see yourself primarily as a sinner in need of repentance rather than a power-full new creation.
(2) If you are in bondage to fear, anger or sin.
(3) If you notice that you can’t do the things Jesus did or said you could do.
(4) If you wouldn’t describe yourself as abounding in love.
*Any of the above are good indicators that you need to receive the Spirit or be filled with the Spirit again.

A New Creation
*Being “born again” is just the start of the Christian life. The four parts of being born again really function as a chrysalis, where everything you were is melted down and you emerge as something completely different, capable of things your former self couldn’t imagine.
*The Bible calls Christians, “new creations.” Here are some of the things that are true of all those born again as children of God:
(1) God no longer cares to remember our sins and blots them out of His books. When He looks at us, He sees in us the same righteousness that was in His Son Jesus.
(2) We have the mind of Christ
(3) We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us and working through us
(4) We have a new heart that has God’s desires written on it
(5) We are called and equipped to do “greater things” than Jesus
(6) God promises to listen to our prayers with a sympathetic ear
(7) We can expect that God will answer our prayers
(8) We no longer live in fear of Judgment Day because it is the Day where we will receive our eternal rewards
(9) We can come with confidence before God, knowing that He loves us
(10) We can live lives free from the power of sin
*Living as a New Creation is a topic near and dear to my heart. It might even be my core life message. For me, living as a new creation is living in a way that is undeniably supernatural, attractive and contagious.
*We have to live life better than the world. If the claims and promises of the Bible are true – that we are new creations endowed with the mind of Christ and empowered by His Spirit – then we had better look different than the rest of the world, shouldn’t we? The Church should be on the cutting edge of health care, social justice, science, music, art, government – you name it. We should overflow with love, wisdom and power for all the world to see.
*I’m not saying we fake it or put on a show – people see through that. I’m talking about being the real deal. I’m talking about actually being transformed, actually loving one another and the people around us with genuine service and affection. Is it possible? I really think it is. And that’s why we’re doing this series. I want to give us a target, something to shoot for. I want to hold up the standards of Scripture without apology or trying to explain how that isn’t for today.
*And here is the tension. Reading the letters Paul, the other Apostles, and even Jesus wrote to the churches, it is easy to see that those congregations were a mess. Almost every one had issues that needed to be fixed – that’s what the letters were written for.
*Perhaps it is a lack of faith on my part, but I don’t expect us to be perfect. I don’t expect that we’re never going to have issues to deal with or that live is going to flow along smoothly for everyone all the time.
*What I do expect is that we will work through those things together, that we won’t give up or grow weary, that we will press on together into the things that God has called us to. It is foolish to think we could establish the Kingdom in our midst in all its fullness before Christ returns, but I don’t want that to keep us from trying. I want to go for it, with you, and see what 150 lives united in love can accomplish.

Ministry Time – Pray for anyone who needs one of the four parts