An Unexpected Journey / Confessions of a Professional Christian

The following is an article originally posted to PerennialProdigal.com

Early April 2007, while in prayer, I felt that God impressed upon me “Start preparing for what I have for you!” I was almost giddy with excitement and hopeful expectation.

I already had what most aspiring ministers and some tech geeks would call a “dream job”. I was the Worship Pastor at a mega-church in the Greater Houston Metropolitan area, and also in charge of creative video production. Pretty cool right? Yeah…..it was…a little. But, you see…things had been tough at work for about seven months or so. Really tough.

So, as you can see, what I felt God whispered to me in prayer was awesome. I just knew that things were about to get better, and I was ready for it.

Easter rolled around and it was awesome! We had prepared an awesome program, arranged and performed some amazing songs. The band and Worship team were in top form. As a special presentation, I sang an old Third Day song along with a video presentation that was very moving.  The audience was engaged, moved with emotion, that was what it was all about. All four weekend services went off without a hitch. Now we could relax a little. I took a much needed vacation the following weekend.

Upon returning from vacation, I was re-energized and ready to conquer the world…and ran slam into a brick wall. Difficult church staff meetings and tense closed door sessions with superiors, left me bewildered, hurt and confused.

Wednesday,. May 23rd 2007, I pulled into the church parking lot heading into work. The weekend services had been really good. Tuesday’s staff meeting had been difficult…again. But I was determined that today would be different. I had determined that I would try very hard to not rock the boat.

Upon getting out of my car, grabbing my laptop and brief case, I saw the senior pastor about to walk up the stairs to his second floor office. We exchanged pleasantries, as we always did, and he said, “why don’t you drop your stuff off at your office, grab a cup of coffee, and come up and let’s visit”. We had done this many times. We’ve known each other for well over ten years, most of which had been spent together on staff. Usually we would talk about a lot of nothing. He would ask about the family, I would ask about his kids. We would laugh about the latest joke or funny story we had heard. Sometimes we would talk 70′s rock music, because…we all know it was the last great era of rock and roll music. Most all of the time we would get around to talking about ministry and what God was doing in our church.

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Following Christ Out Of A Perfectly Good Plane

What does skydiving have to do with Christianity and The Church? Surprisingly, quite a bit. Recently I have taken up skydiving and during my second solo training jump I began to recognize a lot of parallels between skydiver training and what discipleship should really look like.

skydivingA few months ago a friend invited me to go skydiving with him. He wasn’t inviting me to go with him to sit in a hangar and listen to a trained skydiver tell me about skydiving. No, he was inviting me to go experience skydiving for myself along with him. Now was there a hangar and a trained skydiver? Yes, but his function was not to simply tell me about skydiving, instead he was there to equip and prepare me for this exhilarating, life transforming experience. After giving me instructions and equipping me with everything I needed we hopped into a plane, went up 14,000 feet, he strapped me to himself and out we jumped together. This was truly a leap of faith. I had to trust the instructor and the equipment I had been equipped with. As a result of that trust, I faithfully committed to jumping out of my safety zone, a flying box typically filled with those conformed to it’s comfy seats by the fear of what lies outside of the confines of it’s metal hull. Skydivers, on the other hand, calculate the risk and face their fears and discomfort in order to embrace the absolute freedom that is “free” fall. However, I did not have to make this leap alone. I had my friend and also an experienced skydiver there to guide me, encourage me, equip me and even be present right there with me.

My first two skydives were tandem, in which I was strapped to an experienced, trained and certified skydiver. On my first jump I was allowed to deploy the chute at the proper altitude, fly around once the chute was open and land us. The instructor was right there with me the whole time though, guiding me if I started taking us astray and giving me the proper instructions to make a safe, soft landing. On my second tandem jump I was also allowed to turn us left and right and do some tracking during free fall. I was already starting to learn and grow, and the experiences were getting more and more exciting. After the second tandem jump it was time to spread my wings a little, but before I could do that I was required to take a four hour class. Once again, this was not simply about sitting in a room listening to a trained professional preach out of the Skydiver Training Manual for four hours. Immediately after the class I was taken out, suited up and equipped to put into practice everything I had just learned in those four hours. I wasn’t just sent home that Sunday afternoon with some teaching and instruction about skydiving, with a few personal stories to elicit excitement. With the help and guidance of an instructor I was not a hearer of the words I received in that classroom only, but a doer of those words. Except this time I jumped out with an instructor holding onto me, instead of being strapped to him any longer. The instructor was there with me during free fall, but once the parachute was deployed he dove away from me and guided me from the ground via walkie talkie. He was distant from me, but still maintained contact for my safety and security. By training jump three the instructor will let go of you in free fall. After that they will release you more and more until eventually all you get is a pat on the back and a “good luck.” Even then though, the instructor will exit the plane after you and has their eye on you from a distance the whole way down. The goal of the skydiving instructor here is not to get you to pay them to teach you about skydiving from a manual or tell you stories about their personal experiences skydiving. The goal is to train and equip you to become a skydiver just like they are and eventually you may train someone else to become a skydiver too.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11 & 12) You see, it’s not about inviting your friends to go sit in a building listening to some preacher tell them about his experiences with Christ, nor is it about ministers simply preaching and teaching others from the Bible as a Christian Instruction Manual. It’s about inviting people to experience Christ and his kingdom for themselves along with you and then walking this crazy leap of faith out with them. Discipling others as disciples of Christ. Being present with others, preparing and equipping them to be disciples of Christ too. The purpose of apostles, prophets, evangelist, pastors and teachers is not to build personal ministry organizations, it’s to build up the body of Christ. It’s not to make congregations of followers, but rather to make disciples, preparing and equipping them to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers just like you are, in order that they too may make more of the same.

All of this started coming to me on my second solo training jump as we were sitting in the plane ascending to the heavens. I was looking around at the students and our instructors fixing to exit the plane two by two as Christ sent out the 70 (Luke 10:1). In addition, there was a team of four highly trained skydivers on board. They no longer needed an instructor to skydive, but here they were, jumping out and flying in perfect formation together in unity. That’s when it dawned on me, I really wish church was a lot more like skydiving.

Follow Jesus, Not the Crowd

Perhaps the most simplistic, yet profound advice I have ever read, came in the form of the following short tweet by author and pastor Jarrid Wilson who simply stated…”Follow Jesus, not the crowd”

Standing AloneMy thoughts are this….

Jesus is steadfast, unwavering….crowds are fickle and prone to wander.

Jesus is eternal truth….crowds spout the rhetoric of the latest trend.

Jesus is Mercy and Grace….(most) crowds attribute grace and mercy as a sign of weakness.

Jesus is Peace and Love….crowds will suffer violence in the elusive search for the same.

The answer is simple….yet so hard for most to comprehend!

But…it takes courage to follow Jesus.

It will sometimes require you to stand apart from everyone else. It will require you to completely trust in God, to hear and follow what He is speaking to you. It will require you to speak what is not popular. It will require you to love those who are not part of the “in” crowd. It will require you to move outside of yourself to care for those around you. But, the benefits far outweigh what is required.

Follow Jesus, Not the Crowd!

Reposted from www.perennialprodigal.com #perennialprodigal

15 Things Jesus Didn’t Say

Originally posted on Jim Palmer:

 

shamegirl

15 things Jesus Didn’t Say:

“For God was so disgusted with the world and you that he gave his one and only Son.”

“I have come to bring you a new religion.”

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have correct theology.”

“If anyone would come after me, let him disparage all other religions and their followers.”

“If you love me, you will regularly attend a church of your choice… within reason.”

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Relevant Christian Celebrates 6 Years!

Relevant Christian posted it’s first post on February 26th, 2007 entitled Rebel, or Progressive Thinker?, and at today’s count, have had over 316 posts, well over 261,000 visitors, and 1,890 published comments.

The purpose behind Relevant Christian was born out of a growing uneasiness about the state of Christianity, and a desire to start people thinking, or maybe even start a conversation. While it was not our purposeful intention to be controversial, we have at times, definitely succeeded in being so.

Our most popular post to date, “What Does the Bible Say About Tattoos?”, has been viewed 115,910 times, and was written by a very good friend and pastor Timmy Gibson.

We have had the pleasure of having some great contributors to Relevant Christian, and I would like to say thank you to those who have contributed (no pun intended) to the success of Relevant Christian.

Timmy Gibson
Joe Martino
Bill Reichart
Dave Anderson
Chris Elrod
Justin Heibert
Joel Johnson
Tracey Eldridge
Heather
Shane Anderson
Stephen McDonald

…oh yeah….Me and one or two others that I may have neglected to mention…and of course those that have written guest posts from time to time….Thank You!

It has been an exciting journey…so far!

True Worship

This was the last installment of a five-part series on man’s need for God individually, originally titled Help, I Need Somebody.  This post is a discussion on the true worship of God.

In a previous post we discussed the biblical definition of the word for ritual worship.   Ritual worship, otherwise known as religion can exist in a pure form. Religion pleasing to God takes place when we lovingly fellowship with and embrace the least of these among us. Visiting and ministering to those in need and bearing one another’s burdens is true religion and a by-product of the love of God within us. Religion fulfills the lesser of the Great Command, being, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  In today’s post, we will crescendo with a discussion of the worship that fulfills the greater aspect of this Great Command, being, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”

The most commonly used word for worship in the New Testament is proskyneō (προσκυνέω.) This word for worship is used by Jesus in response to satan’s temptation and in his conversation with the woman at the well.

To satan:
Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matthew 4:8)

To the woman at the well: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24)

Like the biblical definitions for love, faith, wisdom and religion, we are also blessed with a simple definition of this word worship in Romans 12:1.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.”

To worship God in spirit and truth is to offer our entire being; physical body, mental faculties, inner soul and reborn spirit as a living sacrifice to the love of God. This is the Abiding Principle, “Abide in me; and I in you.” It is not enough to be in proximity to God, as we’ve seen with Adam. It is not sufficient for God to make the gift of grace available to us. This gift requires a response that involves the surrender of our whole life as a living sacrifice to Him.

Just as there is pure, undefiled religious worship, so there is a fake, corrupted form of religion that seeks to take root in the heart of men. Adam & Eve exercised this false religion when they took the flesh and ate of the tree of the knowledge of high-brow moral philosophy and conflict. Equipped with a cynical view of God, seeded from the deceitful speak of the serpent, they believed this forbidden knowledge would make them like God. Foolishness in that Adam and Eve were both created already in God’s likeness. For those of higher education it is often difficult to see the dignity in those not as highly educated. For instance, seminary education sets many church leaders up to be unable to even recognize that common men within their congregations possess spiritual gifts necessary for the body. Higher education is not bad, but it must surrender first to the headship of Christ. Self-made demi-gods, however, seek superior knowledge on things like ethics, philosophy, the art of war, and science to replace the need for Christ. God warned Adam this way would lead to death, but Adam despised his lowly estate as a farmer in God’s garden. As a result mankind’s need for a Helper was magnified one thousand times that of his original need.

Adam’s response to satan should have echoed Jesus’ words, “Away from me, satan! Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” But these words always come up short from a man seeking his own glory. Knowledge apart from God and false religious devotion are the precipices for an evil civilization. In our next series we will develop the subject of the tree of knowledge taking deeper root in corporate form, but we will leave it here for now. Spiritual death took its root with Adam’s sin, and mankind was separated from his chance to eat of the tree of life.

Mankind has proven his experiment with the fruit of the tree of knowledge a failure. It has produced nothing but turmoil, war and oppression. Slaves to sin and death mankind is in need of a Helper like never before. In the tree of knowledge forgiveness does not exist. The power to forgive is found only in the Living Light of Love. The atonement for the sins of the first Adam can only be found in the sacrificial death of the second Adam. To worship God in spirit and truth now requires of man the fruit of repentance.

Jesus taught his disciples that to gain life one must be willing to surrender their life.

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26)

This is true worship, this is the fruit of repentance, and this is how one loves God. To worship God is to love Him, and to open our hearts to God’s love is to worship. We cry out as the Psalmist, “Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray,” and again, “Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love.” God promised a suitable helper before man ever found his way into trouble.

The story of Adam is contrasted with the story of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Daniel and others who all learned the importance of crying out to God for help. These men of faith are testimonies to the strength found in the Rock of Help. One final story I think best illustrates man’s need of a helper. It is the story of the Ebenezer stone.

Before Israel ever demanded a king and before the kingdom ever fell into captivity they were ruled by judges appointed by God. The last judge appointed to Israel was the prophet Samuel who was used by God to deliver Israel from bondage. In the book of First Samuel chapter seven we find the children of Israel once again having strayed from Jehovah. They are under captivity to the Philistines as punishment for their sin.

“When [the Israelites] had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, ‘We have sinned against the Lord.’ Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah.

When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. When the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. They said to Samuel, ‘Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.’
Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord answered him.

While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites.
The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.”

Samuel cried out on behalf of the Israelites, offered a sacrificial lamb as payment for their sins and the Lord God was faithful to deliver them from their oppression. Upon this great deliverance Samuel worshipped the Lord God and erected a monument to God’s honor.

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’”

Today, we can call upon the name of Jesus, not Samuel, with whom we can make direct intercession. Today, the atonement for our sins has been made through the sacrificial Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Today, we can pray directly to Christ for salvation from the oppression of our sin. We can surrender our lives in loving worship to the God who saves and rest in the arms of our Helper. In this true spiritual act of worship we are accepted as a living sacrifice, acceptable unto God, made to be an Ebenezer stone to the testimony of God’s help.

This is God’s promise to mankind today. A passage that has been so violated by false teachers that it has lost its meaning. Read it in light of Romans 12:1.

“Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“‘In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

Many teach that this passage has to do with God wanting you money, and that is scary because this passage is actually the direct words of God Himself. To twist this passage is no little issue. According to Romans 12:1, the whole offering God is asking for here has nothing to do with your money. God doesn’t want your money. God doesn’t want your empty religious sacrifices.

The message of God here is, “I want you! Bring the whole offering into my storehouse. Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Do not rob God. He wants you.

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One Lost Lamb

good shepherdHave been thinking about the parable of the shepherd who left the 99 to search for the ONE lost lamb. I think there are beautiful truths still left uncovered in this passage. What did the lamb do to be saved? Did he repent? If so, what led him to repentance?

Here’s what I am seeing….First he did NOTHING except run away, put himself in danger, risk starvation and loneliness. In this story, the only action I see in on the part of the Savior (Shepherd). The Shepherd left the 99 and searched for the one. The Shepherd picked him up. The Shepherd lay him across His shoulders. The Shepherd rejoiced at finding him. Sooo, again…what exactly did the lamb do??? The lamb did nothing except surrender to being carried. Nothing but submit to the strong but gentle grip of the Shepherd. Nothing but let go of the restlessness that had driven him to wander in the first place. The lamb did nothing except perhaps nuzzle in close enough to smell the familiar sweet scent of his Savior and hear His heartbeat racing with the flutter of excitement at finding His precious lamb!

And I ask you, is it not THAT very love so freely given, without merit or good works, that leads all of us to repentance?? Is it not in the sweet moment of relishing in the safety and warmth of the gentle grip of our Savior that leads us to regret our actions? Is it not in that moment when His love for us is realized that we want to make changes and start anew??
Roman 2:4