Wednesday, February 1, 2012

God-shaped void

Have you ever heard the metaphor of the “God-shaped hole”?  It conveys the idea that every person is created with a hole or vacuum in their soul that only God can fill.  It’s an innate longing for something outside of our self, much greater than our self.  The authenticity of who coined that phrase is widely denounced, though that does not diminish its concept.  I for one will be willing to claim authorship of that statement if no one objects, if I can figure out how to get Google to tie it to my name.

If there is such an innate void in all of us, why do so many people try a myriad of God-like alternatives to force-fill the void?  Nonetheless the masses who place all manner of ungodly options in there hoping to fill the void?

The apostle Paul said “when I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.”  A little baby lies unashamedly on its back and cries to be cleaned, fed and cared for.  We grow up and learn self-sufficiency – I will clean myself and make myself better, somehow, anyhow.  Jesus said “I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

As good news as the finished work of Jesus is, there’s a draw from within that resists something for nothing.  There’s an internal sense that somehow I have to qualify for this to have value.  Like going to a restaurant, a meal tastes better when you pay for it rather than someone treating you to dinner.  We just need to get over it, Romans talks about wages and gift.  Go for the gift, it is unmerited favor.

So we get up off the bassinette of our beginning, fuddle around trying to tie our own shoelaces as we begin our education process, meander through decades of life sometimes trusting God but often trying to show him we’re capable.  Negotiate through scores of years and people often arrive at a place where they once again let someone else help them.  A product of realizing one is incapable of completely caring for themself, they let someone else help them with even the most basic of tasks.

Romans 8:29-30 God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him.  After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.

Our heavenly Dad isn’t out to show us He’s better than us, He’s not remotely insecure about that fact.  He’s not even out to convince us we need Him, again, that’s fairly obvious.  He is scanning the horizon for the day we realize that void in our very person is where He is meant to live.  He is our life.  We’re as incomplete as an empty flashlight without the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

In my younger days in church, I often felt challenged by others who knew more than I did (or at least seemed to).  Nowadays, not so much.  It’s not that I have matured and amassed great understanding.  These days I am completely comfortable with who I am in Jesus.  I don’t feel a need to know it all, I know the one who does.  I have surrendered trying to prove something to God; we’ve both seen that rerun many times.  I am His beloved son and He’s my dad, and we like it that way.  We’re past the exciting but awkward first date of trying to impress, we’re genuinely friends.  I hope each of you get to experience firsthand that rest in Jesus.  He really is that in to you.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Shades of Gray

Like most young people, there was a day when I thought I knew everything. Then I spent some time with a couple mentors quite my senior.  I realized those guys forgot more than I ever knew.

From my time spent in the construction industry, I do know that “just paint the walls builder white” is as ambiguous a term as there is. There are hundreds of “whites”, many with various amounts of black in them. Cool whites, warm whites, white whites and some whites that don’t even deserve the name white.

I have also come to realize that even so-called “black and white” individuals actually operate in shades of gray.  They may be black and white with your flaws but gray with their own. Or they may apply stark black/white judgments to most people, but definite shades of gray on the very same issue with others.

I used to describe grace as a definite and pronounced line one crosses “into” the kingdom of God, but a vague ambiguous line (clearly known only by God) for anyone slipping back across the other direction.  Now; not so much.

People can be so opinionated on issues they see as only black and white.  For instance, topics like the gay issue, inter-racial marriage, should Christians drink wine or tithe or use fuzz busters or….. wait.  It can get pretty bizarre once you take the parking break off that discussion.

So who’s right?  Them of course, they’re always right (whoever “they” are.)  The issue is as old as time – or at least as old as Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 10. 

God’s grace, after all, is bigger than any dilemma I can imagine, it’s extravagant and inexhaustible.  You don’t have to pull out your piercings; please just don’t expect me to get one to express my individuality.  You don’t have to convince me you’re acceptable because of God’s amazing grace; please just don’t play me for stupid as you try to explain away your choices.

People have been divided for millennia over so-called black and white issues.  I know we have kids who barely know what a VCR is, let alone 8 track tapes.  I remember growing up with 4 channels on our black and white TV, and remote controls?  They were my brother and me.  Let me introduce you to one more color than simply a black and white life – Scarlet!

All of these debates and issues and doctrinal borderlines are trumped by the scarlet blood of a spotless innocent lamb, Christ Jesus – Grace Himself.  I now see the line is not sharp one way and air-brushed vague the other way.  It is defined by the greatest sacrifice of all time, the blood of Jesus Christ that splashed on the ground beneath the cross, once for all.

We don’t do anything to qualify for God’s saving grace.  We can’t do anything to be disqualified for it.  Grace is so much more infinite than that.  So can a Christian do …… and still get into heaven?  Pardon me (He already has) but you’re missing the whole point.  When you begin to grasp the amazing grace of God, you will never again wrestle with “black and white” issues.  They only exist in man’s finite understanding.  It’s time to grow up in grace.  He really is just that in to you!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What is Radical Grace?

Many Bible-believing churches talk about grace.  Here are some things that should characterize a church that follows the biblical principles of grace. Relevant Bible passages are listed for further study.

1. Free Grace is taught and preached consistently. A grace-oriented church encourages gospel preaching that makes it clear that we are saved by grace plus nothing, through faith plus nothing, in Christ plus nothing. Their gospel message does not imply that we have to make commitments to God or do any good works in order to be saved, or do the same afterward to validate that we are saved. Assurance of salvation is available to all who believe in the promises of God. Likewise, our subsequent Christian growth is based on grace just as our initial salvation was. Ephesians 2:8-9; John 1:16; Titus 2:11-12

2. People are encouraged to grow in grace. Grace gives people both motivation to grow and room to make mistakes while it gently guides them into maturity. This is the process of discipleship. Growth in grace has as its goal Christlikeness. A church that is serious about making disciples will help people grow deep in the Christian life. Ephesians 4:7-16; Colossians 2:7; 1 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Peter 3:18

3. Grace is the primary motivation for Christian living. There is a positive approach to ministry which motivates people to grow by grace not guilt. Preaching and teaching does not make people feel unnecessarily guilty. instead of emphasizing what we are or are not doing, grace emphasizes who we are in Jesus Christ. This motivates us to live up to who we are as God’s greatly blessed children. Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 2:20-21; Ephesians 4:1

4. People are accepted as they are. A church should model God’s own love and gracious actions toward all people. Though we are each different and prone to sin, God accepts us because we are His children in Christ. A grace-oriented church shows acceptance to people not only when they come to Christ for salvation, but also as they try to live the Christian life. Such a church accepts differences in culture, personality, opinion, giftedness, questionable matters, and personal preferences because God has accepted the person. Romans 14:1-13; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Ephesians 1:6

5. The unbiblical extremes of license and legalism are avoided. Grace is not perverted into an excuse to do whatever we please, called license. The Bible says that grace teaches us to live godly lives. The opposite perversion of grace, legalism, implies that we must adhere to non-biblical or man-made standards to be acceptable to God. A church can exert subtle or overt pressure to conform outwardly to such artificial standards. But a grace-oriented church holds to the Bible’s clear teachings, is flexible in the unclear issues, and never allows human rules to supercede the authority of Scripture. Mark 7:1-23; Romans 6; Colossians 2:20-23; Titus 2:11-12

6. Liberty is balanced by love. Grace frees us to love and serve God, which means we should love and serve others also. A grace-oriented church will teach how to balance the joyful liberty of the Christian life with a love for God and others. This means that in areas of conscience or questionable things, we are encouraged to temper our activity by considering how it will affect others and by acting only out of love. We are encouraged to use our liberty to serve others. Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8; 10:23-33; Galatians 5:13-14

7. There is an emphasis on being, not doing. Busyness is not godliness; godliness is godliness. And godliness begins in the heart with the realization of who we are as God’s children through faith in Christ. The grace-oriented church encourages godliness by emphasizing growth in our personal relationship to God. Ministry and service come from the joyful desire to honor God, not the mistaken belief that God is not happy unless we are busy. Luke 10:38-42; Ephesians 5:1-2; Colossians 2:6-7; 2 Peter 1:2-11

8. There is a sincere desire to share the message of grace with the world. Those who have been freely blessed should be willing to share that blessing with others. The “God of all grace” desires all men to be saved through His provision in Christ. If a church is seeking after God’s heart, they will be active in reaching the world with the gospel of grace, because that is where God’s heart is. Matthew 28:18-20; John 17:18; Acts 1:8; 1 Timothy 1:12-16; 2:1-7

9. Those who sin are dealt with biblically. The reality of sin in Christians is understood and addressed biblically. Personal confession and restoration is taught. Sins of a more public or blatant nature are handled by the church lovingly and prayerfully with the goal of restoring the offender to full fellowship with God and the church. The grace-oriented church reflects a healing environment rather than a critical and condemning spirit. Matthew 18:15-20; 2 Corinthians 2:6-8; Galatians 6:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

By Dr. Charles Bing

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Funny Money

The urban dictionary describes funny money as “false money, especially counterfeit money.”  Apparently it’s not that uncommon these days.  You expect to have a $100 bill inspected for a purchase, but even giving a $20 at the store usually results in the cashier swiping it with a special marker to check its authenticity.

A few years ago a docudrama “End of the Spear” was presented to honor the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre of recent Wheaton grads Jim Elliot and his passionate young missionary friends.  The grads had made heroic efforts to evangelize the unreached and fearsome Waodoni Indians of Ecuador.   The Waodonis suddenly turned on the five missionaries who, offering no defense, gave their lives for the cause of Christ.

One of the young missionaries had an eight year old son, who has spent his life trying to reach the same men who killed his father.  This past decade he brought Mincayani, the man who killed his father, back to visit his home in Michigan.  It was a culture shock for the Indian. The experience of undeserved love has resulted in the salvation of many of the tribe members that his father died to win to Christ.

Returning to his home in Ecuador, he described the Americans as overtly friendly.  “They have huge barns of every kind of food you can imagine, and you just take whatever you want.”  The American tried to explain that wasn’t exactly true, you had to give them one of these (he showed them a credit card).  The Indian said “sure, but they just smile and give it right back to you again.”  Funny Money – not really real.

It is just as difficult for believers to grasp the price Jesus paid for us.  Really Paul?  Joseph (the Old Testament patriarch) was a type of Christ.  Rejected by his elder brothers he suffered falsely.  He knew what they meant for evil, God meant for good, sending him ahead to save the world – giving them bread for life. 

At one point in the story his brothers tried to tell Joseph’s house steward they had no idea who put the money back in the mouth of their grain sacks.  Ge.43:23 the steward said, "Everything's in order. Don't worry. Your God and the God of your father must have given you a bonus. I was paid in full."

Joseph didn’t use his status as second in command of all of Egypt.  He paid the price for the grain and put his brother’s money back in their sack.  Father didn’t just imagine away the law’s demand for our sin nature.  Jesus paid the price in full.  Jesus’ death wasn’t like going to sleep, knowing He’d wake up in three days.  That wasn’t funny money.

The inflexible demands of the law had to be paid.  Jesus really took the stripes, tasted the rejection, satisfied the debt, died the innocent-lamb death and rose triumphant so that we could have life abundantly and free.  It wasn’t free – funny money.  It cost Jesus everything, which He freely gives to us.

There is no minimizing the cost paid, and the value God places on your life, willingly exchanging His son for you.  As the steward told Joseph’s brothers “Your God must have given you a bonus. I was paid in full.”  That is undeserved, unmerited favor.  That is extravagant love lavished upon us by amazing Grace.  That’s Jesus.  Yes He really is – Just that in to you!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Musings of a seasoned church planter

That sounds like an oxymoron or a crazy man.  Planting a church is an exciting journey.  Definitely not for the faint of heart, the “nine to fiver” or those who come completely unglued by extended periods of no income.  People find it a most exciting prospect to dream about creating something that’s bigger than you.  A planter gets an adrenalin rush from the comment “I am 100% behind you man.”  I haven’t met a church planter who hasn’t turned around one day and wondered “how far behind me are you?”

Father’s business has some similarities to conventional business.  It takes a uniquely different skill set to see and start something that doesn’t exist yet, as opposed to the skill set to continue something that already has momentum.  There is the main vision and purpose for which you’re taking the risks.  But there is a host of ancillary ingredients that are usually much less enjoyable. 

Unlike conventional business, the product in ministry is unquestionably excellent and pre-chosen by God.  The dissimilar component in ministry, is reaching a continuously changing people group who may decide they don’t want what you have to offer, even though they need it, and it’s the best option available to them.

A church planter must be a focused visionary.  Jesus set His face towards the cross, and would not be dissuaded by the crowds or those closest to Him.  A planter has a sense of urgency others just don’t get.  “Give it time, it will happen.”  To a church planter, that sounds the same as a mother who just gave birth to a baby deciding to spend a few months at the gym getting back in shape before she’s ready to consistently care for that baby.  You can’t neglect a baby for a day.

A clue from the master; Jesus said in John 1712 “And not one of them got away, Except for the rebel bent on destruction (the exception that proved the rule of Scripture).”  The obvious reference is to Judas the betrayer of Jesus.  The reference that speaks loudest to me is captured in the word “except”.

There are scores of mechanical insights available to church planters.  To my church planter friends I would like to share something less tangible I found vital to remaining focused.  Know who God has called along side you to carry the vision.  Recognize that people may traverse in and out of your life.  Love them, but devote yourself to care for those evidently called to your side.  You will consume valuable prayer time and emotional energy that will be much more fruitfully spent advancing the kingdom with the people genuinely called to help you.  Pour yourself into those who faithfully help you fulfill the assignment you have been given, like Aaron and Hur to Moses.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Kings and Priests

Rev.5:10 says those who are redeemed by the blood of the lamb will be “kings and priests for our God, and they shall reign on earth."

For years I heard that reference roll off tongues like it was one title, “kings and priests”.  As if we all are kings and priests.  To be sure, there are some people that fill both rolls, but they are the exception, not the norm.  We will usually operate in either a kingly or a priestly mantle, but seldom both.

So what’s the point?  Priests (as seen in scripture) are those with a gift and anointing to teach the scriptures and lead people into a genuine faith in Jesus Christ.  The priestly anointing has an ear to hear the Spirit of God and they are visionaries emboldened to step into uncharted waters as God directs.

Kings (as seen in scripture) generally have a gift and anointing in the market place.  They are not just successful entrepreneurs on a steady trajectory of success, but men and women of God with a supernatural gift to accumulate wealth.  They are clearly gifted visionaries in business and industry.  They can be distinguished from worldly entrepreneurs by their heart to use their abilities and accomplishments to advance the kingdom of God.  They are not satisfied with personal success and wealth.

There is often a frustration that exists between kings and priests because of a lack of spiritual understanding in each other’s rolls.  Priests can wonder why successful businessmen aren’t more generous with the church.  Likewise the kings may feel they are only seen as a “meal ticket”.  The result is, both are unfulfilled, because God designed them to work together, like parts of a single body.

Nehemiah is one of my favorite books in the Bible.  He was clearly a hard working visionary used of God to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem (a greater significance than sounds in our modern western civilization.)   I’m also intrigued by Nehemiah’s understanding of the significance of the king and priests relationship.  Finally, with my background in the construction industry, I am totally impressed he accomplished the construction project in an amazingly brief 52 days.  He spent over twice that time in prayerful waiting for God to unite the king’s heart with his vision.

No telling how long it may have taken had Nehemiah been a one-man team, having to accumulate all the materials first.  The king respected Nehemiah and not only gave him the necessary leave of absence (a sacrifice to his own well-being) but the king actually funded the entire project (Ne.2:6-8).  Not only was biblical history made, but King Artaxerxes was fulfilled in his gifting.

When the “kings and priests” relationship is understood and respected by each, it is a formidable force for the kingdom of God.  When a Godly leader receives a vision from the Lord and shares it with a king, it resonates and the king sees it in high-deff.  Like the two wings of a butterfly coming together, it is beautiful to see what happens.  The king is fulfilled in his call, the priest as well, and the people of God are blessed. 

So what do we do? 
  • Quit looking for a big tither. 
  • Be clarified in your call and purpose. 
  • Seek the heartbeat of Jesus. 
  • Partner with those who have what you don’t, and need what you have.
  • Glorify God as you both change history.  
Everyone will be glad you did, including you!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dear My New Potential Youth Pastor

I know you’re probably out there, looking for a church that needs someone with your mad skills to lead young people into a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.  Hoping there’s a group somewhere whose vision resonates with your passion?  Maybe you're feeling under-utilized for Jesus?

We’re looking for someone who knows the value of discipling teens to become secure in who they are in Jesus.   Someone who has a passion to see the power of peer pressure emasculated from driving our youth today.   Not a narcissistic overgrown kid that just wants to be their friend (being friendly is good, but they have friends, they need a leader.)  We’re looking for someone who can develop and lead youth in a brand new community.  We’re looking for someone who knows how to have fun, and still speak into young lives in a positive life-changing way.  We’re looking for a genuine, godly, gifted leader who lives the gospel, loves people and is radically growing in Grace. No masks necessary (or desired).

In order to not rob you of your treasure in heaven, the financial remuneration is minimal to start.  Such as we have, we give to thee, but paychecks might come in the form of dinners at our home and change from the couch, at least initially. We will need someone willing to be bi-vocational to start as we develop this brand new multi-site, radical grace church.

I will also commit to personally taking an interest in and mentoring you. Whatever resources I or my family has at our disposal we will leverage to get you out here and settled.  I will pray for you regularly.  I will seek to develop already existing skills and work with you in areas you want to grow in.  I will spend time with you and facilitate community to love and support you.

If you are looking for something hard, but fulfilling, we should talk soon.   This is a blank-slate opportunity.  Check out to catch a glimpse of what God is doing through us.

Happy Father's Day Paul! We Love You! -The Team at THE WELL