What I Meant to Say: Better Together

At yesterday’s service I publically processed some of my thoughts from the Global Vineyard Conference, how it impacted me personally and how I think it will impact the congregation. My reflection largely revolved around the issue of family. I wanted to reformulate those thoughts into a more coherent message for our family, thus this post. 

The Father and His Family

When Jesus came to the earth, he primarily revealed God as Father. We see the theme of “God as Father” in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it is rather minor and easily overshadowed by the others names/revelations of God. Jesus isolates and elevates this understanding of God, making it the basis of his ministry. He cemented this foundational understanding of how we are supposed to interact with God when he taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father…”

For a large number of us, the word “father” does not conjure up a joyous, virile and empowering image. Rather, it awakens in us a deep sadness, longing and even fear. Too many of us have had fathers who were absent, distant, abusive, cruel, disinterested, addicted, impotent or controling. Even those of us whose relationships with our dads are relatively healthy and intact still feel a gnawing emptiness, as though they were not all they were inteded to be. Very few are those who enter adulthood with a strong sense of what a father should be – an image to aspire to if one is male or someone to look for if female. Most of us are limping along, trying to do the best we can.

Therefore, when Jesus teaches us to relate to God primarily as a father, as THE Father, it is understandable that we have issues. It is all too easy to project onto God the faults and failings of our earthly dads and not look at it the other way – that God is the One who defines Fatherhood and that our dads were the ones who fell short. God is a Good Father, the Perfect Father – never cruel or manipulative, never controling or unjust. Because God can only give what he has, James (the half-brother of Jesus) declares that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Heavenly Lights.” Pretty amazing really… if something isn’t good or perfect then it isn’t from God.

If God is a Father, then we (his children) are a family. John the Apostle says that “to everyone who receives Christ, he gives the right to be reborn children of God.” As Christians, we have been adopted into the family of God – God is our Father, Jesus our Elder Brother and the rest of us siblings together. 

Life Together

I am going to hazard a guess that when Jesus prayed in the Garden, “Father, I want them to be one as you and I are one (John 17:21)” he wasn’t envisioning a suburban middle class lifestyle where we all live in seperate houses and only see each other once or twice a week. Instead, I think he was describing a heart posture of longing and delight that would have a profound effect on our lifestyle. I think he was envisioning a family – a family of God where every dividing wall of gender, race and economics is torn down and we all worship before the Throne singing “Worthy is the Lamb because you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God people from every tribe and language, people and nation. You have made us a kingdom, and priests to serve our God…”

“You have made us a kingdom…” This family is also a Kingdom, a group of people who have sworn allegience to a King and who are committed to obeying him wherever they happen to currently live on the earth. This bond of obedience, of wanting to hear God and obey him, is stronger than any earthly bond (Luke 8). The Blood of the Lamb is thicker than the blood of this world and our connection to God through Jesus is more certain, more sure and more lasting than anything this world can provide. One day this world will burn away, yet the family of God, the Kingdom of God, remains.

 Life in the Kingdom is simple. We eat together around a table. We work together. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. We create and we party. We serve and we enjoy. We love deeply and well and we clean up our messes. Most of us do this with our biological/adoptive families, why wouldn’t we do it in Church?

For too long we have confused the American Dream of upward mobility and ever increasing possessions with the Kingdom of God. The two are not the same. I think we are due for another Reformation, another way of “doing church” that will recenter our attention on the issues of family and Father. At least, that is what I see for our congregation. Going forward, I think we will have a much more deliberate emphasis on knitting ourselves together into a family through small groups and other events. I forsee a large number of campire conversations and poutlucks in our future. 

Cheers! 

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What I Meant to Say: Spiritual Gifts

Yesterday’s sermon on spiritual gifts was wide ranging and fast paced. Today, I wanted to expound on some points and clarify others. I’ll also try to recap the sermon as best I can for those of you who didn’t make it.

Sermon in a Nutshell
Holy Spirit is the gift. The things we typically refer to as “spiritual gifts” are simply manifestations of Holy Spirit’s work and partnership in our lives. Spiritual gifts are “spiritual” because they are gifts of the Spirit, not because they are mystical or deal with the supernatural. Business, government, art, worship, construction, service, administration – all of these are spiritual gifts alongside prophecy, healing and miracles.

Whenever God gives us a gift, it is always a person – never impersonal power. Spiritual gifts manifest as we partner with Holy Spirit to accomplish some purpose or goal – most often our calling and the good works we were created to do. Holy Spirit is not some generic “power source” we plug into, like plugging in your toaster to an outlet. Holy Spirit has thoughts, feelings, desires, plans, purposes and goals – we have to treat him as we would anyone else and tend to our relationship and friendship if we plan on working together long term.

This principle of “people as gift” is also true in church leadership. In Ephesians 4, Paul says that Christ himself gave to the Church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. In other words, he gave us people that have very different worldviews, ways of thinking and goals, but who are called to work with one another for the mutual edification and building up of the Body. We are called to receive one another as gifts from God. Someone can be really messed up and still be God’s gift to you. Someone can fall into sin, backslide or otherwise biff it and we are still called to honor them as a gift and rejoice in what they carry in the Spirit. We don’t affirm their sin, but neither do we wash our hands of them until they “get their act together.”

Clarifications
In the midst of my sermon yesterday, I gave a disclaimer that spiritual gifts are not an indicator of spiritual fruit. (I defined fruit as the observable change in character that comes from fellowship with God and being changed into Jesus’s likeness as described in Galatians 5:22.) I said that someone operating at a high level of spiritual gifting does not immediately translate into a high level of fellowship with God.

The example I used and want to clarify is that I said that we don’t often look at someone who is extraordinarily successful in business or government and assume that they are walking closely with God. I then said that we should apply that same skepticism to others operating at a high level of gifting, be it prophesy, healing or signs and wonders. That was poorly phrased and I think left an impression that I didn’t intnd.

What I meant to say is that someone can be used powerfully by God in any area and that doesn’t mean they are necessarily being transformed into His image and likeness, because they are separate issues. As far as business and government, I don’t think you can succeed at a high level in either without God helping you. And I believe that many successful businessmen and politicians do have intimate and vibrant relationships with God.

I also regret using the word “skeptical.” It conveyed the meaning I wanted but with negative undertones. I don’t want us to look at anyone operating at a high level of gifting and assume they aren’t walking with God. I want us to honor, bless and receive everyone. I just want to caution us against the tendency to look at someone on a platform and assume they are perfectly walking things out in every area of their lives. Mark Driscoll could be a perfect example – he is a highly gifted man. He is highly gifted, and also a man. We shouldn’t be so scandalized by his humanity that we forget to receive the really good and true things God has done (and will continue to do!) through him.

A Point I Meant to Make
Because Holy Spirit is the gift, it means that all of the manifestations of the Spirit are available to us as believers. God is certainly more prone to use us in ways that fit our personality, background and call, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be used in other ways. Furthermore, if there is one particular gift that you would love to operate in, I think there is freedom to ask God to use you in that way. I think you can ask, pray and look for opportunities to use that gift and I believe that Holy Spirit will take that into account because I believe God honors and treasures the desires of our hearts.

So please, don’t feel limited or confined by the results of some spiritual gifts inventory or assessment. At best it is only giving you a snapshot of how God is moving in your life at that point in time. Realize and assume that you are going to change and that God is going to use you in different ways at different times.

What all of us need to commit to is being willing to be used by God in any way to meet any need. Because Holy Spirit lives in you, you can be the answer to any problem you encounter. If someone needs encouragement, counsel, healing or help you can do those things – you don’t have to call in an expert. The important thing is that you know the basics of operating in each of those areas so that Holy Spirit can use you and you don’t take yourself out of the game. That is why we teach people the prayer model, basic relational skills like reflective listening, it is why we should be in reasonable shape and practice listening for God’s voice. I believe it is every Christian’s desire to be a useful and profitable servant – and that begins by being willing to do whatever God asks of us.

Last Thought
I want to see our congregation grow and develop in the use of our gifts, whatever they may be. I don’t want anyone to feel inadequate or “less than” for the way God uses them. I want us to celebrate all of the gifts and learn to call them out in one another. And, most of all, I want us to see one another as gifts. God never gives us an ability without an accompanying responsibility to love and serve the people around us. Gifts are for the good of those around us and we are called to strengthen our love for one another. Part of our inheritance is locked away in the people around us – we are called to set them free and build them up so that we can receive what they have to give. As we do that I think we will see a great shift in the life of our community. I think we will see more and more people attracted to Christ, more and more growth and maturity and more and more satisfaction, freedom and joy in our hearts. And that is something I am excited for.

Thanks for reading friends.

What I Meant to Say: Strengthen Yourself in the LORD

Yesterday I spoke out of 1 Sam. 30 about David and his ability to find strength in God and the promises God had spoken over his life. “Strengthening yourself in the LORD” is an essential skill in Christian discipleship. It is the ability to persevere and act in faith when everything else is against you – when circumstances are bad, your friends abandon you, your own emotions betray you and it would just be easier to quit. We talked about two main ways to strengthen yourself in the Lord.

Individual Prophetic Words
Like David in 1 Samuel 30, we recall the words God has spoken over our lives. I do this through voice recordings, saving emails, and writing things down in my journal. I have a growing list of prophetic promises over my life that all share specific themes, even though they were given by different people in different times and places. As I review my prophetic history, my life’s calling comes into greater clarity and focus.

I believe we all need people with prophetic gifts in our lives. Prophets in the Church are primarily called to encourage, equip and edify the body. I liken each and every person to a gold mine – we all have some gold nuggets surrounded by loads and loads of dirt. It doesn’t take a prophet to see the dirt, but it does take someone with supernatural vision to see the “gold,” the amazing things God has put inside of us to bless one another.

However, not everyone lives in a Christian community where the gift of prophecy is actively practiced. And some people live in communities where there is so much prophetic activity that it is hard to see straight. So individual prophetic words, as wonderful and necessary as they are, can’t be the sole guiding force in your life. For that, we turn to God’s Word.

Corporate Prophetic Words
The Bible is an amazing creation. It is roughly 2,100 years of God’s interaction with humankind, recorded and synthesized for our benefit. God’s Wisdom has been filtered through nearly 4,000 years of human experience and been shown to be without equal in showing people how to live. More than that, it is a record of what God wants to do in and through His People. It is overflowing with God’s promises towards us.

The wonderful thing about the Bible is that it doesn’t take advanced degrees to understand. Really, a 12 year old probably reads it with more insight than someone with a Ph.D. The Bible says we are supposed to feed the hungry – so we do it. The Bible says we are supposed to heal the sick and raise the dead – so we do it. Because God’s Word is the supreme authority in our lives, whenever our circumstances don’t align with God’s Word we have the right to doubt our circumstances

This is where we step into the area of faith. Will we believe God’s Word, hold fast to His promises and take the next step of faith? Or will we decide our emotions are our supreme reality and discredit God’s Word? I’ve tried it both ways. The first is tremendously difficult, especially when it comes to trying to raise the dead; but the second is disasterous. The moment we begin to discredit, compromise or explain away God’s Word our whole life falls apart. Strengthening yourself in the Lord is about trusting His Word and finding yourself in His Story.

The Greater David
I began this post by referencing the story of David in 1 Samuel 30. At this time, David is in exile and biding his time until he is crowned king. While he and his army were away, some enemies came and pillaged the camp – they took everyone into slavery. When David and his men return to find the camp burned and their families enslaved, the men turn mutinous. David withdraws to strengthen himself in the Lord. When he returns, he rallies his men to go after their enemies. The men agree and overtake their foes. They put every enemy to death and are reunited with their loved ones. They return to rebuild their camp.

The Truth of the Bible is that there is a Greater David. There is another man spoken about in the Bible who was in exile and waiting to be crowned King. He, too, found that his bride had been captured and enslaved. His friends all abandoned him and he knelt alone in a garden to strengthen himself in the Lord. He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” And after finding strength in the Lord his God, this King readied himself for battle. For three days he fought his enemies until they were put completely beneath his feet and this King, this Jesus of Nazareth, strode confidently out of the tomb having overcome sin, death and the devil.

The Truth of the Bible is that, even now, this Jesus reigns Supreme. Sin and death are defeated foes who should no longer intimidate the people of God. And this is our ultimate source of strength – for whenever our hearts condemn us and our circumstances lead us to despair, this one truth remains – Jesus is alive. And if He lives, then we also shall live, provided we remain in his love. That fact alone puts everything into perspective. That fact alone empowers us to live lives of faith and victory.

So for anyone who struggles with depression or despair, find yourself in this Story. Jesus loves you, he fought for you and he won you from the grip of sin and death. He has promised to never leave you or forsake you and has proven himself by placing his spirit in you – the same spirit that raised him from the dead. You are a fighter. You are victorious. If you don’t quit you will win a crown of everlasting life.

Blessings to you my friends!

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

What I Meant to Say: Metanoia (Repentance)

Matthew 4:17 is the nucleus of Jesus’s life and ministry. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near,” is the essence of Jesus’s work on the earth. Everything we see in the Gospels flows from it. Therefore, it is essential that we understand what Jesus means in those first few words recorded in Matthew.

I’ll preface this by admitting that the word “repentance” has a lot of baggage associated with it. The word has been damaged in our culture and is in great need of explanation so that we can understand it correctly. Repentance is the absolute first step to salvation – it is imperative that we understand it well and can explain it to others.

Let us first examine what repentance is not.

When we proclaim the Good News, we want people to repent. However, getting people to repent is not us trying to convict other people of their sins so that they will turn to Jesus for forgiveness. Convicting people of their sins is Holy Spirit’s job (see John 16). A great many saints have taken this approach through the years and God, in His mercy, has allowed it to be fruitful. Even still, I do not think this is the most effective means of advancing the Gospel.

I’d like to go on to explain what repentance is by comparing and contrasting two Greek words, metanoia and paranoia.

Paranoia is a word we are familiar with in English. It describes a disease wherein someone is absolutely consumed with thoughts of other people, specifically, that other people are out to “get them” or do them harm. This is exactly what the word paranoia means in Greek – para means “alongside” or “beside” and noia is the word for “thinking” or “mind.” So, paranoia has a double meaning – it can mean “outside your mind” (meaning madness), or it can mean “thinking about the people beside you.” Paranoia is literally the fear of man, being consumed with thinking about the people around you and what they are thinking about you. Paranoia is a disease of the enemy that steals, kills and destroys a sound mind.

Metanoia is commonly translated as repent, which is really unfortunate because that isn’t anything like what the word means in Greek. If you think about it, re means “to do again” and pent is from the word penitent which means “feeling or expressing sorrow for sin.” So repent literally means “to feel sorry and do penance over (and over) again.” Yuck. But it helps explain why we evangelize the way we do. We’re trying to get people to feel sorry for their sins.

Contrast that with the actual Greek word metanoia. Meta can mean “to change” or “above” and noia once again means “mind” or “thinking.” So metanoia also has two meanings – “to change your mind/thinking” or “to think about the things above,” meaning God. If paranoia is being concerned with what other people think of you, metanoia is being concerned with what God thinks of you.

So, what does Jesus mean when he says, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”? I think what he means is this: “The Kingdom of Heaven, God’s reign and rule, has come near to you. I’ve proved it by healing the sick, casting out demons and even raising the dead. God is real, and He is coming as a King to overthrow His enemies and establish His Kingdom on the earth. How are you going to live in response to what you have seen and heard? Are you on God’s side or not? I am the Way, the Truth and the Life – I am God’s terms of peace. If you will submit to me as your Lord and Savior I will spare you from the wrath that is soon to come on the earth. If you don’t, them you stand condemned already as those that have rebelled against God and rejected His terms of peace.”

The sentence I highlighted above, “How are you going to live in response to what you have seen and heard”, is what I understand Jesus to mean with the word metanoia. Repentance can only happen when we have been confronted with the Superior Reality of God’s Kingdom. When we see God’s Kingdom triumph over the kingdom of this world through signs, wonders, miracles, love, mercy and forgiveness then we have a choice to make – will we align with Immanuel (the God in our midst) or will we continue our allegiance to the Prince of this world through unbelief, skepticism, cynicism, fear, revenge and unforgiveness? While metanoia is oftentimes accompanied by remorse over sin (Acts 2:37), it isn’t always (see Acts 10).

To clarify, I don’t want to do away with the English understanding of repentance, that is, “to feel sorry for our sins.” As Disciples of King Jesus growing in holiness, we will experience sorrow for our sins. We will grieve how we have hurt God’s heart through willful disobedience and we will ache over how we have caused pain to those we love when we act contrary to our true nature. What I am trying to make clear is that, as it pertains to Evangelism, we are required to confront people with the Reality of God’s Kingdom in such a way that it gets them to think about God. And if we can get them to ask questions like “What does God think about me? Are we on good terms? Were Jesus to come back right now and establish the Kingdom, would I be on the winning side or losing side?” so much the better.

I long for the Church to reclaim metanoia. I long for us to look for ways to change people’s hearts and minds by demonstrating the true Gospel of Grace. I long to see Disciples of Jesus carry His Presence in such a powerful way that whenever we walk into a room, we can truthfully say, “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near to you.”

I believe that day is coming. I believe it is promised to us in the Scriptures. My prayer is that I will live to see it, even pastor a group of people who will be the living embodiment of the “greater things.” Amen, let it indeed be so!

What I Meant to Say: Mother’s Day

Yesterday was a fun day – I’m glad we got to celebrate the women of our congregation the way that we did. You’re all wonderful!

A brief recap of yesterday’s message:

* It wasn’t an accident that God chose Mother’s Day, 1979 to birth a new move of the Spirit that we now call the Vineyard. God’s Spirit is attractive and tremendously effective at bringing people to Christ, but God wants to make sure these converts are brought into a family, not left as orphans with an instruction manual.

* Women carry the Presence of God in a special way. We see that with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and in Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the resurrection. Women are an essential part of God’s plan to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” And they aren’t relegated to “just” the multiply part. 🙂

* We saw that, at the end of his life, Paul’s primary concern was for his spiritual son to grow, mature and step into his calling. For all the work Paul did, all the churches he planted and letters he wrote, when push came to shove, Timothy was forefront on his mind. I think that is a tremendously powerful lesson. Are we taking our role as spiritual Fathers and Mothers seriously and pouring into the next generation? If not, we may need to rethink our priorities.

* We have amazing women in our congregation. I took the time to honor a few by name, but that list wasn’t exhaustive by any means. I’m really thankful to have such wonderful women in my life – thank you for being who you are, you inspire me to be more than I am.

I realize I didn’t say that as concisely yesterday as I did here, but this is what I meant to say. I think you guys are great. I love being your pastor!

Happy (belated) Mother’s Day to you all!

Ben

What I Meant to Say: Pentecost and Jubilee

[Author’s Note: This is a vastly different sermon than I gave on Sunday – it is the sermon I wish I would have given, but I didn’t get the revelation of it until I was talking. Thanks for your patience with me as I develop as a messenger. Ben.]

At the start of Jesus’s ministry, he quotes the famous passage out of Isaiah 61: 1-2a

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

What is fascinating is that Jesus intentionally cuts the quotation off mid sentance. Rather than reading on to the Day of Judgement, Jesus stops, indicating that his ministry was an extension of the Year of Jubilee.

Jubilee in the Old Testament is a glorious idea, though there is no indication it was ever actually practiced. The idea of Jubilee is this — after 7 sets of 7 years, the Jewish people would call a Jubilee. This meant that all debts were forgiven, all work was put on hold, all slaves were set free and all territory was given back to its rightful owners.

In Jewish law certain families had territorial claims for eternity. Their land belonged to them and their family as an inheritance forever. However, in hard times, it was possible for the family to sell the land for a certain price and it was under the custody of the buyer until the next Jubilee, whereupon the land would be restored to its rightful owner so that the next generation would have the means of providing for themselves and elevating their circumstances.

Pentecost was a Jewish holiday that occurred 50 days after Passover. It celebrates the Israelites being freed from slavery and entering into covenant with God. After the Israelites were established in the Promised Land, Pentecost also became a festival that indicated the harvest was in full swing. It was a day of celebration, rest and remembrance for the Israelites.

In the New Testament, God does a tremendous re-writing of spiritual history. Whereas 3,000 people died on Pentecost in the old covenant, 3,000 people are saved in the new. The blood of the Passover Lamb set the church free from God’s judgment (God’s wrath would now pass over them rendering them unpunishable) and God established a new covenant — a covenant of life, grace and reconciliation and sealed the deal by pouring out His Holy Spirit. This outpouring signaled the start of a new epoch in Church history — “the Great and Glorious Day of The Lord.”

We are living in the Last Days, but not the last of the Last Days. We are living in the Great and Glorious Day preparing for the Great and Terrible Day which will be followed by Judgement Day (this is a totally different teaching that I won’t develop here). In the Day in which we are living, everyone who calls upon the Name of The Lord (Jesus) will be saved — the sign of this great truth is that the Holy Spirit should be in and upon every beleiver.

I the books of Acts, we see the disciples continuing the ministry of Jesus, even building upon it and doing things Jesus never did. They continued it because the disciples were able to heal all who came to them — and this wasn’t limited to the Apostles. Stephen the Deacon as well as Phillip the Evangelist also operated in signs and wonders. The disciples built upon this spiritual inheritance and found their sphere of influence increased, the manifest grace of God literally dripped off of them. The story’s I am referencing are Peter’s shadow healing people as he walked down the street (Acts 5) and Paul’s dirty handkerchiefs being used to heal the sick (Acts 19).

Church history indicates that signs and wonders were commonplace in Christianity up until the time of the Roman emperor Constantine (306 AD) and then curtailed abruptly at the time of emperor Theodosius (379 AD). Why the correlation with those two events? Constantine made Christianity a legal religion within the Roman Empire (previously it was illegal and there was great persecution of Christians) and Theodosius took things one step further and made Christianity the ONLY legal religion in the Roman Empire, resulting in a dramatic change of events where Christians were now the ones persecuting people.

All that to say this: I believe the Church sold its inheritance as God’s designated authority on the earth for temporal authority in the form of human government. We exchanged the Kingdom of God for the kingdom of man because we thought we could establish the Kingdom of God on the Earth in its entirety before Jesus’s return. Christianity was never meant to be a ruling religion naturally speaking, we aren’t equipped for it.

Take two of Jesus’s commands to the Church as found in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain — turn the other cheek (Matt. 5) and give to everyone who asks of you (Luke 6). It is hard to have a national guard or sustainable economy as a government with those two commands. I am all for discipling nations and transforming culture, but we have to use the strategy Jesus gave us (salt, light, leaven).

I believe the Western Church sold its inheritance (spiritual territory) to the world and has continued to do so ever since. There are seasons where our inheritance has been restored, but we’ve never kept hold of it long enough to build it back to where was.

I believe that is changing.

I believe that people are starting to get desperate within the Church. They are reading the Scriptures and thinking ‘This was never supposed to stop!’ They are passionate about fulfilling Jesus’s prayer “May Your Kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” They are willing to fight for, retain and build upon the spiritual inheritance of the Church.

And here is the correlation I see between Pentecost and Jubilee. Just as Jesus was a living extension of the year of Jubilee, so is the Church. We enter into the ministry of Jesus to set captives free, reconcile them with their Heavenly Father and restore them to their proper place as sons and daughters. But that lifestyle and ministry of Jubilee can only be accomplished if “the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me.”

Pentecost made Jubilee accessible to the world in the first century and Pentecost will make Jubilee accessible to the world in the twenty-first century. As we pull out from worldly ways of doing things, embrace our subversive and apocalyptic assignment as yeast and take back our identity as the children of God we will find our inheritance being restored. God wants to confirm the Gospel with signs and wonders again. He wants us to dwell in the land He has assigned to us. He says it is righteous to build on what we’ve received and leave a greater inheritance for our children. And we start by being faithful in small things. We prove we can manage dimes and we’ll get dollars.

It is an exciting time to be the Church! I think God is preparing us to ride a great wave of revival — a time where hundreds of thousands are saved, we see more healings in a day than we did in a decade and Western Culture is radically impacted by the Gospel of the Coming King. I’m thankful that God chose us to live in such a time as this.

Thanks for reading friends.

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.