Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Yesterday we learned that Jesus Christ is in absolute and willing subjection to God the Father, and therefore that he is subject to the Father’s every whim and perfect will. What, then, is the perfect will of the Father for the Son? That he be the one true vine of life. That he be the one true source of nourishment and growth and passion and power and fruitfulness and purpose and joy. Or to borrow the language of John 14:6, that he be the only way, the only truth, and the only life. He does not lead us to this life, he himself is this life. He does not lead us to the true vine, he himself is the true vine. To have him is to have all; to reject him is to reject all.
And surely there are many who reject him in favor of false vines. Surely there are parts of us, even as believers, that forsake him and seek nourishment from false vines. We turn to the praise of others and money and career and power and prestige and television and sports figures and actors and actresses and 1,000 other things, seeking from the world, from false vines, what can only be had in Jesus Christ.
Prayer Focus: Pray that in these 40 days God the Father will be gracious to reveal to us the false vines in our lives, granting us grace to repent, and giving us passion to pursue and drink from the only true vine: Jesus Christ.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Jesus begins this well-known passage by making a statement about himself, but then he quickly places himself within a much larger context. He is indeed the true vine, but he has a vinedresser: God the Father. What does this imply about the relationship between God the Father and God the Son?
The Father is in ultimate control, and he has ultimate power over the Son. The Father superintends the life and growth and spread and fruit of the Son. And as for the Son, he is willingly and absolutely submitted to the Father and vulnerable before him. The Son is subject to every whim of the Father and is surrendered to his perfect will.
Even for Jesus Christ, who is very God of very God, life is all about God the Father. And if this is so for him, it should be so for us. We will never see ourselves aright until we see God aright, and we will never live our lives aright until we live them in submission to God.
Prayer Focus: Pray that in these 40 days God will open the eyes and ears of all at Glory of Christ Baptist Church; that we may see him for who he is and submit to him willingly by his grace.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Well, brothers & sisters, the time has nearly come. We are now only one day away from the beginning of our Season of Consecration. Today I want to share some ideas with you about how you might work fasting into this season. Technically speaking, fasting has to do with abstaining from food, but it is certainly allowable to extend that principle to other things. So here are four possibilities that are designed to get you praying and thinking about what the Lord might have you do:
(1) You can commit to fasting from a particular kind of food. This option is particularly helpful for those with medical issues that cannot, without risk to their health or life, completely abstain from food. My wife Kim is in this category. Because of the medications she’s on to manage her Multiple Sclerosis, she is unable to fast in the traditional sense of the word. So, what she’ll do over these 40 days is fast from some particular kind of food and trust that the Lord is more interested in the state of her heart than the mode of her fasting.
(2) You can commit to fasting one day per week, one or more meals, from now until Easter. This is a great option for many people because it’s very doable. Going without food for one day is enough to get your attention, but it’s not so overwhelming, especially for those who have not engaged in fasting before.
(3) You can commit to fasting for an extended period of time, like 3 or 7 or 20 or 40 days. If you decide that God is calling you to this kind of fast, I strongly suggest that you consult a believing physician or a veteran of fasting or read some of Bill Bright’s material on fasting. A great place to start is his little booklet, Seven Basic Steps to Successful Fasting and Prayer, which can be obtained for free at www.billbright.com/7steps. From there, it would be good to read some of his other resources which are obtainable at the same site.
If you do decide that God is calling you to a longer fast, please consider “juice fasting” rather than “water fasting.” It is possible to go without food for extended periods of time and only to drink water, but it is VERY difficult and absolutely should not be done without the counsel of a believing physician. You can contract scurvy or otherwise do irreparable damage to your body if you’re not careful. So, it may be wiser to engage in a longer fast with juice instead of water. I would recommend using the following juices:
(a) Diluted apple juice, or your favorite juice. This will give you vitamin C and protect you from the majority of issues that can arise from going without food for an extended period of time, and it will give you some energy to do what you must during the day. The reason I suggest that you dilute it is that the acids can build up in your stomach and cause some unnecessary discomfort. (b) Vegetable juice, like V-8 or your favorite vegetable juice. I would use this sparingly, however, because the acidic nature of vegetables like tomatoes can also cause some unnecessary discomfort. (c) Bill Bright’s favorite fasting drink: mix water with fresh lemon juice, a little cayenne pepper, and either honey or pure maple syrup. The lemon gives you the vitamin C you need, the cayenne pepper purifies your system, and the honey or pure maple syrup gives you some energy.
(4) You can commit to fasting from a particular activity. It’s important to note here again that we cannot fast from bad things, we have to repent from bad things. We cannot fast from watching excessive amounts of television, we have to “come out from the world” and repent of that, by the grace of God. It may be that the Lord will use these 40 days to remove from you some harmful habit, so be aware of that and be open to his leading. “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline nor be weary when reproved by him, for the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline. If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:5-8).
But not all television watching is excessive or sinful. So, you may, as a friend of mine did some years ago, commit to abstaining from television for these 40 days and giving that time to prayer and meditation on the Word of God. Or you may commit to abstaining from some other activity, that is not at all sinful, for the sake of prayer and meditation on the Word of God.
Brothers & sisters, in the end my passion for each of us is that we seek our gracious heavenly Father and ask him how he would like each of us to pursue him in these days. And let us ever keep our eyes on the prize: we are not glorifying fasting or any other particular practice, we are seeking the grace and power and will and ways of our Father who is in heaven as regards the work he has called us to do in Rogers-Elk River and around the world. God himself is our aim, and without him we can do nothing.
Jesus warned us in Matthew 6:16-18 not to fast in order to be seen by others. We should heed this advice and be careful that we are not doing what we’re doing for the praise of men and women. But this does not mean that we cannot fast publicly together, any more than his teaching to pray in secret means that we cannot pray publicly together. Again, the key is doing what we’re doing, in the depths of our hearts, for the glory of God and not the praise of others.
With this in mind, Kevin and I want to share with you what we feel called to do in these 40 days, at least with regard to fasting. We want to share this with you so that you’ll know how to pray for us, and so that you’ll see how we have worked out the options spelled out above. We are not seeking your praise or adoration, we are seeking your partnership and prayers. Lord willing, we are going to begin by fasting for 3 days together, and then we are going to fast each Monday from now until Easter. If the Lord leads us to fast for a longer period of time, we are open to that, but for now this is our commitment. Each of us will be seeking the Father in other ways as well, but this is our specific commitment to fasting.
Brothers & sisters, thank you so much for taking the time to read these many long notes. The notes that will follow for the next 40 days will be much shorter, and they will be expositions of John 15:1-11 with prayer points for each day. Please continue praying with me that the Lord will have his way in us during this season.
For the glory of Christ alone,
Sunday, February 25, 2007
First, while fasting can be of enormous benefit to the soul and the body of Christ as a whole, it does carry with it distinct temptations and dangers, both spiritual and physical. The chief spiritual dangers, I think, are pride and idolatry. As for pride, when we fast we will be tempted to flaunt what we’re doing before others and to seek as our reward the praise we receive from them. Or even if we keep the fasting to ourselves, we will be tempted to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Pride is the mortal enemy of faith, so brothers and sisters, don’t let your guard down with this one! Keep your armor on and fight against the devil and the world and the flesh! And most of all, instead of seeking the praise of others or the impressing of self, memorize and meditate on a passage like Psalm 63:1, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water,” and remind yourself that God is your great and high end in fasting. No other reward will due!
As for idolatry, we can be so concerned with the particulars of fasting and the host of issues that arise when we do it, that we take our eyes off of the beauty of God which we seek. We can make the exchange that Paul talks about in Romans 1 and worship the created thing rather than the creator. Brother and sisters, NEVER FORGET that the goal in fasting is to have more of God! “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfector of your faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God” (Heb. 12:3).
Fasting also carries with it physical dangers. It’s not a big deal at all to go without food for a day or two, but if you feel led to fast for 3 or 10 or 20 or 40 days, PLEASE consult a believing physician. If you’re not careful, you can do real damage to your body, and again, the goal here is not self-flagellation but the glory of God. So, pray hard about what he’s calling you to do and obey him all the way, but PLEASE be careful.
Second, you need to be aware that in almost every fast there is a phenomenon I call “backlash.” One thing that fasting does is it exposes your flesh, it exposes so many unsanctified areas of your life and character, and to put it plainly, the flesh does not want to be exposed and so it bites back. The design of God in this, I think, is that he exposes our flesh in order to cut it away. His design, I think, is to make us holy as he is holy. But beware and know that your flesh will fight against this, probably more fiercely than you think. Many people assume that they will feel more spiritual when they fast, and then they’re shocked when they experience intense, internal resistance or when they fight more with their spouse or when they’re more irritable or what have you. When these kinds of things begin happening, remind yourself that you are like gold in the furnace of the master: he is exposing the dross so that he can remove it from you.
Finally, it is ever so important to agree that we are not in a spirituality contest. There are a variety of ways each of us can participate in this fast, and none is greater than another. Obedience is what we’re after here. Seek the Lord and do what He’s calling you to do, and do not give in to the temptation of comparing yourself to others, whether you perceive that you are doing more or less than them. That is not the point. Seeking deeper communion with God our Father is the point. Crying out to God with great earnestness is the point. Doing whatever it takes to abide in him and he in us is the point.
We are now less than 48 hours away from the start of our Season of Consecration, so please join me in praying that God will have his way with us in the coming weeks.
For the glory of Christ,
Saturday, February 24, 2007
The primary reason we should fast is that Jesus fasted and taught His disciples to fast. We don’t fast to be religious, we don’t fast to deny ourselves for the sake of denying ourselves, we don’t fast because we think that all the things of the world are evil and are to be avoided, we don’t fast to earn the love of God or to gain the favor of God—plain and simple, we fast because Jesus fasted and taught His disciples to fast, and as Christians our passion and goal and greatest hope is to be like Jesus Christ. As Christians our greatest longing and our utmost desire is to be by grace what He is by nature, and so we not only obey His teachings but we enter into His way of life. And in His life, Jesus fasted. I don’t pretend to know all the reasons why He fasted or all the reasons why He encouraged His disciples to fast or all the reasons He wants us to fast. All I know for sure is that in the will and ways of Jesus there is abundant life.
Now, someone might question the assertion that Jesus taught His disciples to fast, because there was that one time when Jesus was approached and asked, “How is it that we [John’s disciples] and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” To which Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?” In other words, there’s no need for them to fast because they’re in a season of rejoicing, that I the only Begotten Son of God am in their midst. But you see, Jesus continued and said this, “The time WILL come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they WILL fast.” Not that they might fast, but that they WILL fast.
And then in Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus said this: “WHEN you fast [NOT IF], do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show people they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But WHEN you fast [again, NOT IF], put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to people that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Now, I won’t belabor the point anymore, but suffice it to say that Jesus assumed His followers would fast, and all throughout the Bible we see them doing just that; all throughout Christian history we see them doing just that—from Justin Martyr to Augustine to Martin Luther to Charles Spurgeon to John Piper, these and thousands more made the feast of fasting a regular part of their lives.
Does this mean that a follower of Jesus Christ has to fast? No. Christ has paid the full debt for our sin and Christ has become the complete measure of our righteousness before God, and there’s nothing we can do to add to that or to compel God to love us anymore than He already does. There’s nothing at all in the New Testament that says Christians must fast or that if they don’t they will suffer the consequences. The Christian is free from the law and is under no obligation whatsoever to fast.
However, the New Testament is replete with examples of the power and benefits of fasting in the lives of God’s people, and just in telling these stories it does commend the practice. The feast of fasting is not an obligation nor does it in any way make us more right with God—our righteousness is in Jesus Christ alone. The feast of fasting is a voluntary choice made by a follower of Jesus Christ who sees that in the habits of Jesus there is life and in the teachings of Jesus there is life and in the habits of His followers throughout the past twenty centuries there is life. The feast of fasting is a voluntary choice made by a follower of Christ, and in making that choice they come to know the power of God that works through fasting as through no other means.
For the glory of Christ,
Friday, February 23, 2007
Fasting, though it will not be the focus of this season, will be an important part of it, and so I felt it necessary to do some teaching on the subject for our church since it is so open to misunderstanding and misappropriation. Over the next several days, then, I'll be posting some of that teaching here. And without further ado, here is the first installment:
Over the next several days, I want to give you some basic teaching about fasting. For while the focus of these 40 days is consecrating ourselves to the Lord for the sake of his glory in this new church, fasting is among the most helpful means of doing so—if one has a proper perspective of it. For today I want to ask and answer a very simple question: What is fasting?
To give a literal definition, fasting means to deny oneself food or water or other necessities or pleasures of life for a season. Fasting is putting aside the good things of life, so that we can feast on the great things of life. Fasting is making space in our lives so that we can give ourselves more intensely to prayer and worship and the Word of God.
And if you’ll think about this with me for a moment, you’ll see that we can only fast from things that are good. For instance, we can’t fast from stealing or gluttony or coveting or lust, we have to repent from these things. So, the only things from which we can fast are good gifts from God. In fasting, we choose to set aside the good gifts of God for a season so that we can feast on the great gifts of God, like prayer and worship and the Word of God.
Now, someone might say, “I have experienced the pain of fasting. I have experienced the pain of going without food and the pain of crankiness and negative emotions and lack of energy and backlash and so on. How can you then say that fasting is feasting, because from my experience fasting is painful?”
I would answer this: I too have experienced the pain of fasting, every single time I have fasted—whether long or short. There is a pain in letting go of the good things of life. There is a pain in denying oneself. There is a pain in cutting the ties with things to which we are very much attached, even if we are rightly attached to them. There is a pain in realizing that some of the things we thought were necessities or gifts from God, are in fact in that category of things from which we must repent.
There is a variety of pain in every fast, but the point still remains: the pain of fasting is not about the pain of fasting, it is about discovering the joy of living when the great things of God have first place our hearts and habits. The pain of fasting is about letting go of our way of life and embracing His way of life. The pain of fasting is about dying to ourselves, not just for the sake of dying to ourselves, but for the sake of becoming more like Jesus Christ! The pain of fasting is about learning that, even though we need certain things in this world to survive and even though God has given us certain things for our enjoyment, we are much more in need of prayer and worship and the Word of God.
In conclusion, to fast is to declare to God that we desire him more than anything else in our lives. To fast is to feast on God—when it is understood and practiced rightly.
For the glory of Jesus,
And as you can imagine, this means that church planting movements almost exclusively develop their leaders from within the movement. Beside the fact that there is often no time to conduct outside searches for leaders, developing leaders from within is wise because there are built in mechanisms for testing a person’s theology and character, for training him in the basics of the movement, for ensuring that the “DNA” of the movement is a part of his philosophy of ministry, and therefore for building trust with other leaders.
Of course, the downside of developing and deploying leaders so quickly is that some slip through the cracks and cause more problems than they solve. But in the midst of rapidly growing church planting movements, this seems to me a necessary risk.
Presently in the U.S.A. we have the luxury of sending people off to seminary for a number of years before they are deployed in pastoral ministry. But imagine if 10,000 people came to Christ in your city this month, and then another 10,000 the next month—would you or your church or your movement be ready and willing to adapt quickly to meet the leadership needs?
Frankly, we would all have to be.
Oh Lord, may we someday be confronted with this problem as you glorify your name by saving the lost in masse!
Thursday, February 22, 2007
One of the main reasons this kind of enduring passion is bubbling up in the hearts of the people is that they are devoted to prayer. And when a person is truly devoted to prayer they come to love what God loves, to feel what God feels, and to act as God leads them to act. And surely, one of the things God loves is for us to love the poor and the helpless and the orphan and the widow. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
Indeed, it would be a grave error to categorize these activities as mere “social action,” rather they must be understood as visible displays of the beauty and transforming power of the gospel.
In the 1000s of interviews that Dr. Slack conducted, a high percentage of people said that the reason they first came to the church was because the people of the church, who did not know them at all, went so far out of their way to love them without asking anything in return. This is not to say that the believers in these chruches were slow to share the gospel, rather it is to say that they did not use benevolence as bait for the gospel. They were simply being Christians, and their love made the gospel easier to receive.
Thus, if we are to see church planting movements spring up in the U.S.A., we will have to drive people to their knees where they will taste the compassionate heart of God and be set aflame to love people right where they are, no matter what the cost.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
When Kim and I were serving in Mexico in the early 1990s, the thing that touched me most about the Mexican church was their devotion to prayer. We would often arrive 30 or 45 minutes early to prepare for the service, and there would always be a room full of people on their knees praying. Prayer was not on the schedule, nor was it a stated expectation from the leadership, rather it was the passion of the people to call upon their God with all of their heart and soul and mind and strength. We never had to try to convince people to pray in Mexico, it was an assumption. And so it is with church planting movements all over the world: they are passionately and invariably devoted to prayer because of their passion for Jesus.
If we are to see church planting movements in the U.S.A. that, at the very least, keep pace with population growth, we will first have to see a renewed passion for prayer in the hearts of the people. It's fairly easy to get people in this country to show up for a potluck or a social event or a workday, but it's very difficult to get more than a handful of people to show up for prayer. This should not be so. Jesus said in John 15:5, "“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he fit is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” How else shall we abide in him and bear much fruit except by prayer and the Word?
Will you pray with me that God will ingnite a great passion for him in the hearts of his people all over this country so that they will be eager for prayer and fly to prayer? If the Father will be pleased to answer this prayer, we may yet see a great outpouring of his Spirit in our day, and see churches being planted in such a way that we outstrip population growth. Oh Lord, may it be so! For the sake of your glory in the salvation of so many lost people, may it be so!
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Thus, he called for us to think bigger thoughts, to think about spawning church planting movements rather than occasional church plants. And from his extensive research around the world, he helped us see what it will take to create such movements here in the U.S.A.
Over the next several days I will present some of these ideas, but before I do, I'm curious: What do you think are the key elements that mark church planting movements around the world?
Monday, February 19, 2007
The conference was good as well. Over the next few days I'll be posting some specific things that I picked up there, but most of all it was just a blessing to be in the presence of people who have such a passion to reach those who are outside the church.
Rachel and I had a wonderful, four-hour talk about the gospel as we drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I was so grateful as a parent for the fact that my daughter was really "getting it," coming up with many of her own illustrations and applications. Oh how I pray that the gospel will sink ever so deep into her heart!
Our time with our former church was blessed as well. We had occasion to visit with so many whom we love deeply, to catch up, pray together, and rejoice in God for what he's done over the last several years. Even though leaving Marin County was very hard for us, I am more convinced than ever that it was God's will.
Thanks again for praying for us. I look forward to being back in the swing of blogging again!
Sunday, February 04, 2007
1. On Monday night I will have the opportunity to share the gospel with a friend of mine named Robert, and his parents, Charlie and June. Robert and I started doing drugs together when we were twelve years old. When we were almost twenty, his brother-in-law, who is a believer, told him to read 1 John, and he in turn told me to read it. I did and was saved, but he has remained in the world all these years. I have shared Christ with him before, but the Lord has opened yet another door for him--please pray for him.
2. From Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. to Thursday at 12:00 p.m., Rachel and I will be attending a church planting conference with a team from Bethlehem Baptist Church. Please pray that the Lord will speak to us, and that we will have ears to hear and eyes to see. And pray that Rachel grows in the sense that it is a good thing to give your life to serving Jesus rather than the world.
3. On Saturday night at 6:oo p.m. Rachel and I will gather with brothers and sisters from the church in California where I served for six years. Pray that we will mutually encourage one another in our faith, and that his name will be exalted among us.
Thank you so much for supporting us in prayer. Your partnership means a lot to us.
For the glory of Jesus,
Saturday, February 03, 2007
I a sermon entitled, On the Lord's Sermon on the Mount, Saint Augustine writes, "But again one might ask whether we are to pray by words or deeds and what need there is for prayer, if God already knows what is needful for us. But it is because the act of prayer clarifies and purges our heart and makes it more capable of receiving the divine gifts that are poured out for us in the spirit. God does not give heed to the ambitiousness of our prayers, because he is always ready to give to us his light, not a visible light but an intellectual and spiritual one: but we are not always read to receive it when we turn aside and down to other things out of a desire for temporal things.
"For in prayer there occurs a turning of the heart to he who is always ready to give if we will but take what he gives: and in that turning is the purification of the inner eye when the things we crave in the temporal world are shut out; so that the vision of the pure heart can bear the pure light that shines divinely without setting or wavering: and not only bear it, but abide in it; not only without difficulty, but even with unspeakable joy, with which the blessed life is truly and genuinely brought to fulfillment."
Friday, February 02, 2007
Some years ago I read a book by A. W. Tozer called The Pursuit of God, and one of the thoughts that grabbed and kept my attention was this: many so-called ministers of the gospel promote themselves under the guise of promoting Christ. And while the lure of this heinous sin is heightened for vocational church leaders, it is not particular to them. Every Christian has the potential of using God to glorify self, rather than sacrificing self to glorify God.
Oh Beloved, to exalt self under the guise of promoting Christ is the highest treason and it deserves the highest punishment. May the Lord our God, who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, deliver us from such as this and teach us how to live a life that glorifies him to the maximum degree. For when God is glorified in us, His joy is made perfect in us.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
I want to live a great life, and I hope you do, too. But greatness looks very different in the flesh than it does in the Spirit. From the perspective of the flesh, greatness is making much of the self whatever the cost to others. From the perspective of the Spirit, greatness is making much of the glory of God whatever the cost to self.
As Jesus said in Matthew 20:25-28, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Indeed, I want to live this kind of life, and I hope you do, too.