Periodically I get a request from folks about “what I’m into right now.” Such as, “Hey John, I know you read a bunch. So what’s your favorite book right now.” Or, “Hey John, you’re always talking about Ramen Noodles. What’s the best place in Portland?”
So, I’m gonna start a series of blog posts called “What I’m Into Right Now.”
First, you need to know that I’m a guy that gets into things for a while then moves on to something else when I get bored or discover something new. Call it “Rotating Hobbies!” I’ll blog about some of those things from my recent past, as well as what I’m into now.
My hope would be that you would get inspired, try some stuff out, explore, experiment and see what happens. You may find something you love or you may think I’m crazy (i.e.: charcoal toothpaste…blog post coming soon!). Feel free to click on any of the links I’m providing in the blog post and give it try!
I have a motto (actually a bunch of them, but this is one I’m crazy about now)… Leaders are Learners.
I am at my local Starbucks just about every day. I know, I know: I have a problem (the first step is admitting right?). But in my defense, two of my four kids have worked at our neighborhood Starbucks and, well, I’m a good family man. Also, I believe approximately ten or so baristas attend our church, which makes it one of those “return of the tithe” kinda things!
So I think I’m justified. Stop judging me. 🙂
Sure I’m a espresso addict, but more than anything I’m here for the people. I love to see folks…you know, the coffee shop regulars. One such regular is Amos.
Amos is 92 years old. He’s a kind elderly gentlemen that exudes warmth. He is usually in his seat right when the doors open. Then, after chit-chatting with the other patrons, finishing his tall Pikes Place, and perusing the newspaper, he will make the long, slow shuffle to the door. I always give Amos a glance and a friendly “good morning sir” but we’ve never had a long conversation.
He told me about how his morning was shaping up. Tidbits from the newspaper. His next stop was to go to Snap Fitness to exercise a little bit (remember he’s 92!). Then we talked about his knees and hips and how he was able to avoid surgery by simply moving and being active rather than sitting in his chair for too long.
Then before he walked out the door, he stopped, came back to me and asked: “Are you the pastor at the church up the hill?” I acknowledged that I was.
He said: “Young man, heaven and earth will pass away, but word of God endures forever. Every day before I do anything I read the Word. Then at night before I go to bed, I read the Word. It is my life.”
I leaned forward because he had my full attention.
Then he looked me in the eye and said: “May the Lord richly bless you today and may God speak to you in a fresh way.” I nodded in agreement and whispered an “Amen.” He then smiled and shuffled his way out the door to this truck.
Amos of Starbucks.
The Old Testament prophet named Amos captured this in Amos 8:11…“The days are coming when I will send a famine through the land, not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.”
I can’t think of a worse kind of famine. Let’s pray that we don’t experience a famine such as this again in our land or hearts.
Well, let’s be like Amos of Starbucks who hungers and thirsts daily for the word of the Lord.
A number of years ago, in my first pastorate, I remember the ongoing sense of confusion and frustration I felt regarding the purpose of The Church. I would often get asked “What are we doing?” and I knew the question was more comprehensive and challenging then our next event, bible study or teaching series. The question had to do with the greater purpose and overall mission of the “exclesia” – the Body of Christ.
I was stumped. Oh sure, I could muster some semblance of a response such as “We’re just gonna love God and love people.” That, by the way, isn’t a bad answer. I, however, was regurgitating something I had heard from yet another leader at yet another pastors breakfast. In no time I would respond to the “what are we doing?” question with a wide-eyed “Um, we’re reaching the world for Jesus” or “We’re making it hard for people to go to hell in our city.” Were we to reach the lost or feed the found? Ahhh…the pressure!
My understanding of the church’s purpose would flip-flop after every compelling book, conference or sudden epiphany.
When he spoke to me, and about 45 other Christian leaders, the lights began to come on, the fog started clearing, and I began to understand, deep in my heart, the fundamental framework for the local church.
And I haven’t looked back since. Like a gymnast, I finally stuck the landing.
By the way, it should be mentioned, that this wasn’t rocket science, a newly fashioned and fanciful theological construct, nor a secret-now-revealed to the best and brightest. It was simple, and it was explicit in the Bible. But, it finally made sense.
So Christ himself gave [the church] the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built upuntil we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13
The Church exists to equip people towards maturity in Christ Jesus.
Deep breath. I remember a wave of revelation coming over me like it was yesterday.
The church, and all it’s wonderful gifts, are to be aimed, like a strategic missile, at the mission of equipping(which in Greek is the word “katartizo” meaning “to mend”)the saints for the work of ministry. That’s discipleship. Like we say at West Salem Foursquare Church: we exist to Make More and Maturing Disciples.
That, my friends, can be done in amazingly creative and diverse ways. For example, at our church, we’ve determined that we’re gonna hit our goal by investing in The Big Three: scripture, small groups and serving. Other congregations may achieve the goal differently. More power to ya. Like it’s been said, “There’s more than one way to skin that cat.”
But, let’s at least aim for the goal: equipping people towards maturity (which in Greek is the word “teleios” meaning “brought to it’s finished end”) in Christ Jesus.
Based upon my observations, you may have push-back, or at least curiosity, regarding the value of evangelism. Shouldn’t the mission of the church be reaching and/or returning people to Jesus? Doesn’t the church exist for those yet to be found (ie: lost)? This is precisely what you’ll have to wrestle with, as I did. Here’s a piece of understanding from Pastor Jack Hayford, that helped me immensely: evangelism is the natural overflow of an equipped (mended and maturing) follower of Jesus.
Equipping is the bullseye. Evangelism is the byproduct.
We are offering baptism at EVERY service during the ENTIRE month of SEPTEMBER!
We encourage you to TAKE THE PLUNGE!
In Acts 8 we read about Philip’s encounter with a man from Ethiopia. Philip took the opportunity to expound upon the scriptures and introduce the Ethiopian to the saving knowledge of Jesus. While talking they came upon a body of water, and the man asked if he could be baptized. The New King James version of the Bible says that Philip responded with this prerequisite: “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
Before being baptized in water one must come to a place of surrender to Jesus by making Him the Lord and Savior. Our resolve must be similar to the Ethiopian man, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.” Salvation is necessary before taking the next step of Water Baptism. If we have made Jesus the Lord of our life then Water Baptism is an appropriate next step!
Jesus left His people with two specific commands that are vital to our growth as Christians. The first is communion (the Lord’s Supper) and the second is Water Baptism. He gave the church these sacraments as a reminder of his death and resurrection. Water baptism is not our salvation, it is only another step of obedience in the plan of God. It symbolizes “death to self” and “new life” in the power and purposes of Christ. In a very real sense we are saying “Not my will, but yours.”
In Water Baptism we are identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Romans 6:3,4 attests to this when it says, “all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death. We were buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
When we are submersed into the waters of baptism, we are symbolically, yet very intentionally, dead to our old ways of living. Simply put: it is buried! As we come up from the water we are made alive to the new life found in Christ. Now that our old life is “dead unto Christ” you want to be sure not to go digging it back up!
Water Baptism is a public act that renounces sin from our past and professes faith in Christ. It’s a public expression that Jesus is Lord and that we are now a part of the family of God. Many have referred to baptism as a “outward sign of an inward work.” It’s a visible and audible confession to our friends, family, and church of the deep work Christ has done in our life. The Book of Acts chapter 10 refers to many individuals that responded to the message of Jesus. During this time the Apostle Peter asked if “anyone could keep these people from being baptized with water.” The answer was obviously “no” and therefore they were publicly baptized as an open acknowledgement of Christ as Lord.
Nothing could be greater than a life that is fully ALIVE through Jesus Christ! That happens when we are not trapped in bondage to our sin and guilt. In baptism we are crucifying the sin of our life and coming alive to Christ. There is great joy when we are alive to Christ and dead to sin. Water baptism is a symbolic statement of this new life and marks a point of release into further growth and ministry for us as believers.
Not only is Water Baptism a Biblical command, but it is also modeled to us by Jesus who himself was baptized as described in the Gospels. He knew the importance of this sacred moment and calls us to the same obedience, knowing that it will mark a significant point of blessing for our lives!
Today is what is known as “Good Friday.” It’s the day that commemorates the death of Jesus Christ upon a cross at Calvary. Calvary is also called “Golgotha,” which means “place of the skull.” It is a literal hillside immediately outside Jerusalem’s walls. This photo captures what it looks like today, along with a side-by-side display capturing it prior to heavy erosion and excavation.
A really horrific event took place on this site (or one quite similar to it). The death of Jesus was unjustified and unbelievable. It was grotesque. Friends, it’s really difficult to reduce the crucifixion to a charming story, complete with chocolate candy, bunnies or a gold crucifix necklace.
Jesus was an innocent man subjected to a trumped-up trial, followed by agonizing punishment. He was mocked with a crown of thorns on his head and he was hailed by his tormentors as a king. Pontius Pilate, realized he was presiding over a major injustice, looked for some way to release this man in whom he could find no fault, but decided instead to go along with local opinion. Jesus was nailed to a wooden cross and died.
So, it doesn’t seem like there is much good in this series of events. Or is there? Here are five good things about Good Friday.
1. Jesus’ death was the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
Hebrews 9:22 tells us that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Simply put: someone had to die. Only a perfect, sinless sacrifice would suffice, and that certainly rules US out. Jesus, as the only sinless person to ever live, fit the bill exactly. His sacrifice upon on the cross paid it all!
2. Jesus’ death reminds us to not rely on our own strength.
Luke 23:46 captures some of Jesus’ final words on the cross as he said “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” This was a cry of submission and surrender. The Apostle Paul understood this when he said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We can learn from this. A good thing about Good Friday is that we have an annual reminder to submit and surrender to God’s strength.
3. Jesus’ death is an expression of God’s passionate love for us.
Romans 5:8 tells us that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The most famous scripture of all time, John 3:16, echoes this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son…” No greater love has anyone shown than to lay his life down for a friend. That’s what God, through Jesus, expresses to us.
4. Jesus’ death reconciles us to the Father.
Romans 5 goes on to say in verse 10 that “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son….” This means that you and I have been justified (just as if I’d never sinned), and redeemed (bought back from the enemy), and positioned as a child of God (rather than his enemy).
5. Jesus’ death was a sweet set up for his Resurrection.
The best good thing about Good Friday is that it’s a launch pad for Easter. Tony Campolo famously said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming!” Death is swallowed up in VICTORY. Just when you think all is lost, there is the hope of the resurrection. That’s good news for modern man.
Zig Ziglar once said, “I have such optimism, I’d go after Moby Dick and take the tarter sauce with me.”
I love this quote, because I am an optimistic guy. I enjoy taking on big challenges (I know, I know…I’m kinda sick in the head).
I tend to look at impossible situations with tarter sauce in hand.
I’m a cup half FULL kind of person.
What about you?
Recently I was in Capernaum on the north side of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. It was at this historical site that Jesus was teaching in a home. You can read about it in Mark 2:1-12. As Jesus was teaching in a packed out home, four guys brought their sick friend in order to receive a healing touch. They couldn’t get through the doors or windows due to the volume of people engrossed in Jesus’ teaching. There was simply NO WAY to get their friend inside the house.
Or was there?
It is at key junctures such as these that most people get discouraged and walk away (picture Charlie Brown sulking).
But not these guys. They went after Moby Dick with the tarter sauce in hand!
They went through the roof.
Not many folks would think to go through the roof. That takes work, costs money, makes a mess and causes a scene.
AND…it’s what gets friends healed.
I love the optimism. May we become more and more like these guys, especially when it comes to our friends that need to get to Jesus.
When I was a senior in high school I was one of three students that were asked to consider being the commencement speaker. The administration asked two people but only needed one. I declined even though I knew exactly what I would have spoken on. I could picture myself on the platform. I knew the exact stories, Scripture and key points I would make. I could even hear myself speaking the words to the crowd and sharing the Gospel with them.
Even in high school, I was no stranger to public speaking. I did it often in speech classes, drama class, school plays and youth group. It wasn’t that I was scared or intimidated. I should have said YES. I don’t know why I didn’t.
But, alas, I didn’t.
Instead I deferred to the other student. Inside I was hoping she would defer back to me. Then I would rebuff and point back to her. Then she would customarily shift it back my direction and THEN I would say yes. You know the drill. The same thing happens between multiple parties at a restaurant when the bill comes!
On that note…have you ever had the bill come and you said “Oh, let me get this” only to have the other party immediately say, “OK, thanks.” Isn’t there something in you that mutters “Hey, you broke the bill paying rules!”
Anyway…I should have said yes. Now, over 23 years later I still think about it. I thought about it when I was back in my home town of Osceola, Wisconsin last week for a wedding. As I was driving around my old stomping grounds, I noticed that my high school had been torn down and replaced with some condos, but I still thought about it. I thought about it again this morning during my devotional time in the Bible. Our Life Journal Reading Plan brought me to the book of the Bible that I knew many years ago I was to speak at my graduation ceremony…but I didn’t.
I want to encourage those that are graduating this month to live with as few regrets as possible. Few spiritual regrets. Few relational regrets. Few financial regrets. Few emotional regrets.
Oh, and by the way…here is the text of Scripture I was going to talk from (but I didn’t) in my “Graduation Speech Never Heard”…
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.”
In my devotions I read Psalm 102. There was one particular verse that really jumped out to me, as a matter of fact, it shook me deeply.
Psalm 102:18 says “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.”
A people not yet created.
That is amazing foresight.
So often, we talk about the NEXT generation and that’s wonderful and all, but too often we are just referring to anyone younger than US. For example, I’ve often thought of young adults, teenagers and elementary students as the NEXT generation. But, when I read Psalm 102:18 I was called up short on that definition. That is not the NEXT generation…that is the NOW generation!
Let me illustrate: currently our Foursquare denomination is wrestling with the realities of an aging ministerial, because the average age of our pastors in America is 56 years old and nearing retirement. Recently, I was in a series of high level denominational meetings where someone remarked that my involvement and voice in those particular meetings was representative of the “youth of our movement.”
Now, I appreciated the sentiment (who doesn’t want to be thought of as young), but I politely had to interject with this: “Folks, I am 40 years old, and if I embody your definition of the YOUTH of our movement, then I think we just discovered a big part of our problem.”
Those that we tend to think of as the NEXT generation really are the NOW generation, which means we need to discover who actually is NEXT. I believe Psalm 102:18 tells us: a future generation; a people not yet created.
Loved ones, my heart is constantly burning with the vision of my faith and the organizations I lead being alive and ever-changing to embrace a people not yet created.
Do you remember those crazy kick-me signs. Perhaps you were the bully that put them on other people’s backs unaware. Worse yet, like myself, you may have be the recipient of one of those not-so-gentle reminders. (I’m not bitter or anything)!
The Bibles says this in Hebrews 10:24-25: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Have you ever noticed how much Jesus hangs out with people? As I read through the Gospels, I’ve been struck with the value Jesus places upon significant relationships.
Simply being together.
Oh sure, he needed to get away once in a while like all of us do, but for the most part those were brief times of prayer and rejuvenation with the Father. Even the Son of God found it valuable to ‘steal away’ to a secret place, but those times were brief and served as ‘fuel’ for the journey of relationship.
Don’t we tend to function just the opposite? Heavy on the isolation and light on the fellowship?
Dear ones, Christian community is not forged by osmosis! It doesn’t just happen, but rather, it is harvested. One must tend and nurture relationships for them to be healthy. Before Jesus ever performed any miracles, his first desire was to get a group of guys around him.
Relationships before responsibilities.
People before programs.
Jesus didn’t die for an organization, he laid his life down for his friends and family.
Do you have friends and family…really? Or are you living in isolation? That’s not God’s purpose for you.
So…who are you spurring on to love and good deeds?
The following is a blog post from a good friend of mine, John Amstutz. He is the pastor of the Newberg Foursquare Church. I have reprinted it and posting it on my blog with his permission. I love not only WHAT he had to say, but HOW he said it.
As I read through the chatter on Facebook and other media outlets this morning in response to the presidential election results, I was surprised and somewhat disappointed by the reactions of many followers of Jesus who now fear the end has come. Because a person with different ideology and morality sits in the White House, God, His work in us and His mission in the world is somehow threatened…really? Have we lost sight of the power, authority and glory of Jesus and His death and resurrection? Has there ever been a government, liberal or conservative, that has thwarted the move of the Holy Spirit and the advance of the Kingdom of God in the world? In my limited knowledge of history, I can’t seem to find one.
What I have seen in history and the world is that God’s purpose advances regardless who is in power. First century Christianity exploded under the oppressive rule of the Romans. The church in China has grown by millions despite a government who has worked hard to stop it. Even now, we hear reports that the underground church in Iran is rapidly expanding even though it is illegal to convert from Islam to Christianity. It seems that the more hostel the environment that Christianity finds itself in, the more it flourishes.
If we exchanged our zeal and passion for politics with a compassionate commitment to demonstrate God’s love through our lives as we follow Jesus, it really wouldn’t matter much who was in the White House. That’s the beauty of the gospel through the Body of Christ. It’s not limited or contained by leaders, nations, geography, politics or persecution. It’s driven by God’s heart to reconcile the world back to Himself through Jesus…you can’t stop that!
So when I woke up of this morning and heard the election results, I wasn’t fearful, frustrated or depressed. On the contrary, I’m excited and energized to see what God will do through His people in the next four years.