Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Christ Sets Two Foundations for the Church's Mission

“Now Jesus heard that John [the Baptist] had been taken into custody. He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulon and Nepthali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘The land of Zebulon and the land of Nepthali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles-the people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death upon them a light dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’”---Matt. 4:12-17


Today we begin our search for understanding of the preparation which Jesus did with the disciples to prepare them for an exchange that would become the foundation for the missional church and the greatest evangelization of the church in its history. We can see a couple of things on which the church was initially founded on:


1.)                The Word of God.

2.)                Location, Location, Location


It doesn’t take you reading very long in the gospel of Matthew to realize that every single detail of Jesus’ life was controlled by the Word of God. Earlier, in Chapter 4 of Matthew, we see Jesus respond to three separate temptations of the devil by using the Word of God.


To set the stage a little, we need to understand that the imprisonment of John the Baptist did not come immediately following Jesus’ temptation by the devil. John continued his ministry even after Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the desert for some time (John 1:19-3:36). This is important to understand because the people in the area were still in questioning of who Jesus was. John the Baptist was there to “prepare the way” for the Messiah. As a result, as we will see tomorrow, through John the Baptist, people were drawn to Jesus and, actually, the first disciples which Jesus calls-Peter, Andrew, James, and John-were called due to a meeting they had with Jesus at the hands of John the Baptist. We must understand that timing is everything.


The practical application of this passage is stunning to me. We may never know the root works behind a calling which we have. While living in Chicago, Jess and I were part of a church plant which started in one of the Western Suburbs. People prayed and sought out for the exact location and community which this new church would engage. Over the course of a few years, the calling came to plant the church in Downers Grove. Within weeks of the announcement and the engagement into the Downers Grove community, we learned of people who had been praying for many, many years that a strong and Biblically sound church would come to Downers Grove. The bottom line is that when we are led by Scripture and the Holy Spirit, God always leads us where we need to be. Jesus Christ was no different. He set the example at the very onset of the Christian Mission and the Christian Church: be grounded in Scripture.


Interestingly enough, it was Scripture which brought about for Jesus the destination to which He would begin His earthly ministry, and the destination to which the church would be founded. In Isaiah, the prophet wrote about people who “walked” in darkness, yet, we must understand that by the time Jesus quoted this passage in Matthew, the situation in Capernaum was so incredibly discouraging that the people were “sitting” in darkness. Jesus Christ, the light of the world, brought the light of the gospel to them. He planted Himself and His Mission right slap dab in the center of the chaos and confusion and darkness. Such was the exact place where Jesus knew His message would take root. Jesus knew that He could feed upon the need, and create such a deep desire in the hearts of the people there that His Mission and His purpose would spread like wildfire.


We will see in coming days why Capernaum was indeed a great place-a place by the sea, a sea that was covered with professional fishermen; fishermen who would make up over half of His band. There was absolutely no coincidence in the location; a location determined through the reliance upon the Word of God. For those of us desiring to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ in our world today, we should take note!


I pray you stay with me as we continue searching…



Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why Fasting?

So begins this process of questioning, listening, praying, seeking, solitude, quietness, sadness, pain, humility, struggle, and fight. I name all of these because at different points over the next 90 days, I am certain to feel at least one of these; likely more than one with each day that passes. Why the fast? Why now? Why 90 Days? What do I hope to get out of it?


1.)                Stillness- “Be still and know that I am God.” I have found myself over the last couple of years pushing the boundaries of the speed of my life, seeking to fast forward to a time of security and comfort-dismissing the calling and purpose of the here and now.

2.)                Patience- “The Lord is good to those who wait on Him.” I learned a valuable lesson when I was still a running: “Timing is everything!”

3.)                Love- “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” We live in a world where love has been all but demolished and written off. “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

4.)                Fighting Pride- “Humble yourselves…under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you at the proper time.” If I am ever known, let it be at the timing and boasting of Jesus Christ!

5.)                Despondency vs Happiness- “Why are you in despair, Oh my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” The greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful church. Unhappy Christians, are to say the least, a poor recommendation of the Christian faith!

6.)                Answers to the Longings of the Heart- “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness. And all these things shall be added unto you.” When I have lost something, or when I desperately need something, I search for it. All else falls to the way side as I search!


Over the next 90 days, I plan to engage my studies richly in the text to examine the preparation, the calling, the exchange, and the execution of the Early Church. I will attempt to take a wholistic approach to the gospels, walk through the beginning of the church in Acts, and examine the spreading of the Church in the epistles. Before I embark on the Scriptures, allow me t put forth one of my favorite quotes by Jonathan Edwards: “The state of the times extremely requires a fullness of the divine Spirit in ministers, and we ought to give ourselves NO REST till we have obtained it. And in order to do this, I should think ministers, above all persons, ought to be much in secret prayer and fasting, and also much in praying and fasting one with another. It seems to me it would be becoming the circumstances of the present day, if ministers in a neighborhood would often meet together and spend days in fasting and fervent prayer among themselves, earnestly seeking for those extraordinary supplies of divine grace from heaven, that we need at this day.”


One of the clearest examples of fasting shaping history is found in Acts 13:1-4: “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyprene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. And while there were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work of which I have called them. Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cypress.” At least from what I hear in this passage, there was unrest and a deep burden on the leadership team: “Where do we go from here as a church?” They were fasting to seek the leading of the Holy Spirit in their next move.


The problem that often comes up in times like these, at least from my experience, is that the Bible doesn’t directly answer the questions we need answered. “Should we begin a missions program? Should it be now? Should we send some of our own leaders to be missionaries? Which direction should we go? What city should we go to? Where will funds come from? Will the leaders be bi-vocational or be supported by the local church?” If the Bible does not directly answer these questions, where do we get the answers from? Paul prayed earnestly that believers would be “filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all Spiritual wisdom and understanding…and bear fruit in every good work” (Colossians 1:9-10). The answer to the questions above are Spiritual matters. So what can we learn from the passage in Acts about the power of fasting and prayer?


1.)                This fasting was after Christ coming. Fasting wasn’t just an Old Testament thing. These leaders: Paul and Barnabas-believed fasting still had relevance today.

2.)                It was a corporate fast. Some say Jesus warned against fasting to be seen by men (Matt 6:17-18). The critical issue here for Paul and Barnabas was not whether people knew they were fasting, but whether you want them to know so that you can bask in their affection. One is selfless, the other is selfish.

3.)                It was an occasion for special guidance. There is a clear connection between worship, prayer and fasting and decisive guidance of the Holy Spirit.

4.)                It changed history. Before the fasting period there had been no formalized world missions movement. After, the gospel was catapulted from obscurity.


I think it is fair to say God was pleased to make worship and prayer and fasting the launching pad for a mission that would change the course of history! May it do so here as well!



Friday, February 18, 2011

Dying to Self and Growing to Love Others

A few days ago I was asked by a close friend of mine in somewhat of a response to my previous post to share with him the one thing, above all else, that I have learned in my short time in church ministry. I sat in my office holding the phone sipping on a cup of Starbucks coffee just thinking for a moment. Finally, after a few seconds, he broke the silence: “Kirk, you there?” From my side, fifteen seconds to reflect on years worth of ministry in order to answer the question seemed relevant; from the other end of the line, fifteen seconds seemed quite long I guess.

I went on to tell my friend that the one thing I have seen and learned again and again-and really its more of an observation of life than it is of ministry-is this pattern of human beings that begins with this huge burst of excitement towards something that often settles into familiarity and so often ends in disappointment. Take for instance falling in love, or bringing home a newborn baby from the hospital, or a child’s first day of school, or the thrill of seeing your child learn how to read-these hallmark events (or Kodak moments if you will) in our lives that are so vivid and flush with promise at the time that seem all too often to lose their luster and fall away like leaves in the fall. I have sat with families as they flipped through the family photo albums noticing the moonstruck young couple now flabby, bored, and middle-aged, or that tiny baby now a troublesome teenager or rebellious college student, and they wonder how they could have ever succumbed to such a surge of emotions.

Within the church I have seen the same couples who years before came giddy with excitement to pre-marital counseling looking forward to marrying the “love of their lives” now coming back to the church embittered with their spouses asking for the churches help in negotiating a divorce. I have myself worked with addicts whom I bailed out and supported through treatment who just as quickly slide back down the same path of self-destruction. I have in more cases than I would like to admit worked with students whose lives have seemed so transformed by faith yet weeks and months later announcing, “This Christian thing was just a phase. I don’t really think religion is for me.” Ironically, this pattern that once disgusted me, now seems normal-often expected. We struggle in dying to self.

How do we keep excitement from fading into familiarity and finally into disappointment? Perhaps the better way to ask such a question is how do we garner Spiritual Growth in such a way that it heals and transforms individuals and societies around us? Living in a society that has turned Christianity into more of a corporation than a living movement, I feel like daily I need a reminder that the gospel is, at its roots, life-transforming and good news.

I am convinced we have created a monster in the American church today. In an attempt to protect Christianity from the demise of secularism, we have set forth rules and regulations in the church for the sake of pursuing holiness. We tip-toe the lines of legalism often falling its way for the sake of superiority and “spiritual maturity.” Loving your neighbor as yourself, caring for the poor, bringing about justice in your community, forgiving enemies-none of these reduce to a formula or set of rules. Any list of rules narrows the breadth of what God wants done to sinners toward a pointless competition of pseudo-saints. Faith becomes petty and irrelevant, not something that urgently matters. As Christians, we are wired to make a difference; yet too often we fall into this disappointing trap of legalistic paralysis. Sooner or later, familiarity, numbness, and disappointment will prevail.

Perhaps part of the problem is also in the message of Christianity-we tend to make Christianity as a one-time answer to life’s struggles instead of the life-changing, often times difficult, journey that it really is. We tend to forget that the Gospels do not speak of this false rendition of the gospel as prosperity because early Christians were far from ever prospering. Jesus spoke of those who would follow Him as encountering floggings, court trials, persecution, and betrayal. We tend to forget that 10 of the 12 disciples died a martyr’s death. God wants the best for His people; we have many promises that one day God will restore everything to its original state. But the Bible also portrays earth as an evil-plagued territory, and Christians get no exemption from these afflictions. Christians are just as likely as non-Christians to be poor, to be oppressed, to be struck with disease, and definitely to die. We want others to experience Christ, but we are afraid that the message of true Christianity will demolish anyone’s desire to be apart. As a result, we stick with a shallow gospel that leads to emotional bliss; yet just as quickly the emotions leave us, stagnancy sets in, and disappointment overtakes us.

My wife is a fruit connoisseur. Not too long ago I picked up an apple and actually attempted to think of the fruit from the fruits perspective. I thought of the words of Jesus that says in Galatians 5: “the fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are qualities of God who wants to grow them inside of you. From the fruits perspective the ultimate goal is reproduction. That Red Delicious apple I held in my hand was bright and colorful in an attempt to attract an animal or me to pick it and deposit its seeds on the ground so that many more apples can grow. We too often think of fruit from our perspective, as though it were made for our enjoyment. From the apples point of view, our enjoyment is mainly a way to produce more apples. Could it be the goal of the fruit of the Spirit is indeed to produce more fruit in the lives of others than it is to bring emotional bliss? To bring glory to God through planting and spreading their very seeds in the hearts and minds of others than even to bring us physical comfort? As Christians, it is our responsibility to orient ourselves with the rest of the world. As I said above, we all have a desire to love, to communicate, and even to perpetuate ourselves in the lives of others. We are wired to share life in the knowledge of the sacrifices required.

Jesus did not come and die so that we cold live happy and self-indulgent lives to show the rest of the world our self-contentment. Instead, he came as an example for us to follow in His steps. “I tell you the truth,” said Jesus, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Teenagers Must Be Allowed To Be The Church Today

Have you ever noticed that throughout Scripture God seems to use young people to accomplish some of His biggest and most significant purposes? Okay, I know He chose to have some really, really old people have babies and some people lived to be like 300 years old; I am not saying that He didn't use them as well. But think about it: For instance, He used a teenage girl named Esther to save a nation from certain disaster. He used a really cool young boy (not even a teenager yet) named Josiah to start a national revival. He used a shepherd boy named David to defeat a giant. He used Jeremiah, the young teenage prophet, to bring down His anger and wrath on a defiant and disobedient nation.

I remember when I was a teenager, it seemed like a huge task: the thought of being used by God to do some miraculous and crazy things just began to blow my mind and somewhat paralyzed me in fear. Jeremiah himself spoke about this feeling that He had and this inhibition He had about God using Him at such a young age: "Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth. But the Lord said to me, 'Do not say I am a youth. For you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you will speak'" (Jeremiah 1:6-7).

Sometimes we like to just limit things to the Bible-like miracles, healings, astonishing works of God, or in this case the use of a young person. We accept the fact that it happened in those days, but we have little faith that it could happen now. However, before we draw to too quick of a conviction that this doesn't happen in today's world, let us notice that actually church history confirms the divine propensity toward using the "way too young!" Throughout the Great Awakenings of the church, God has consistently used the "way too young" to accomplish His great purposes.

But why? 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 says some interesting things in this regard: "Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. God chose the foolish things of the earth to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him."

So what does all this have to say to us about our churches now and our young people now? I think it says one thing very boldly and very clear: If God has the propensity to use the "way too young" to advance His message and purpose, then we should too!

We all know that the vast majority of those who come to Christ are under the age of 18 years of age. Why aren't we investing more to reach that demographic? Why are our churches becoming less focused on reaching the young, and more focused on harboring and sustaining the old? Too many churches are writing off the aim to reach the "way too young" to a Youth Pastor or Youth Program praying that they raise up future leaders of the church, yet the church is willing to do little to engage or incorporate those students into any strategic growth or evangelistic plan NOW. Perhaps it's fear of change, or the fear of their lack of wisdom. Yet, have we ever thought that a teenager who has been empowered and tuned into a passion for the glory of God to be made known can take the gospel way further way faster than any adult? Just think, in today's world teenagers have nearly 100 online and face to face friends and 100 times more influence in those individuals lives than any stranger would.

I am convinced if our teenagers can be inspired, equipped, and challenged to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in a clear and compelling way, our communities can begin being reached for Christ again. But we must have more than just a Youth Pastor and a few Youth Leaders who are willing to coach them and support them. We must have churches who are willing to embrace them, and allow them to take the church-it's mission and it's cause-where Christ is leading them. "God chose the foolish to shame the wise; God chose the weak to shame the strong."

We have encapsulated our teenagers to being the "church of tomorrow." Tomorrow is today, and our teenagers are the church of today! As soon as they believe in Jesus Christ they are baptized by the Holy Spirit and are given a gift to use and a message to preach! They don't become members of the church or "voices" in the church when they can tithe big and serve on a committee, but when they believe in Jesus Christ.

The future isn't when these teenagers GROW UP; the future is when these teenagers SHOW UP!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why The 30 Hour Famine

XChange Student Ministry will be taking part in the 30 Hour Famine April 8-9, 2011. What that means is that over the next couple of months, Students from XChange Student Ministry will be working to raise funds to go toward World Hunger. We also will be continuing to discuss, pray, and be further educated in the needs toward World hunger. And then, on April 8-9, we will join together in going without food for 30 hours!

So why? Why would we do such a crazy thing like give up food for 30 hours? There are many reasons why our Students would make such a powerful mark. The greatest being that we can for a short amount of time stop, think, pray, and act towards those who are being oppressed. After all, this is a calling of the Christian life. Often times we fail at the first part-we fail to stop, think, pray, or act towards others. Let's face it, it's pretty easy for us to get caught up on our own lives. So, for just a few hours-30 to be exact-our students will set aside their hunger and desire for food in order to stop, think, pray, and act towards those who are hungry.

Though we will not be fed with physical food, we pray that God would fill us to the brim-to the point we are overflowing-with His grace, forgiveness, and passion to make a difference. On an individual level, we pray for life change. Life change in 30 hours you ask? Of course! When we set aside ourselves for the sake of others, our lives are changed. That's love!

No doubt, the weekend will be filled with tons of fun, lots of crazy games, teaching and discussion, worship of an Almighty God, serving our community, and more joice than one could possibly think they would ever consume. But more than that, we are hopeful and moved by the fact that we have the ability to make a difference.

If you are interested in partnering with us to help fight hunger, please click on the link to Donate.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Unashamed-How God Uses Shame to Awaken the True Self

I cannot deny the fact God makes it intrinsically clear that He accepts me-in fact; He delights in me-as an individual bearer of His image. I am all that God wants me to be. The eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, the heart, the mind, all were created just the way in which He desired them to be-“He looked at His creation and declared, ‘it is very good.’” The Beloved Disciple, John, understood this acceptance well and noted: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” Indeed, it is what we are. Yet, we cannot denounce the fact that everything-and I mean everything including every single cell in our earthly bodies-murmurs the opposite. It screams the chorus of a song we have been hearing our whole lives-“You are cursed and gone astray. You are unworthy, you have failed, you fall way short.” As if anticipating this response-or perhaps struggling with accepting the reality himself-John follows: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him.” Though all of which I am created to be is here, there are massive amounts which I have failed in understanding, grasping, nor mastering. A part of me remains hidden and undeveloped. Yet, the more amazing aspect is this: the work of the Holy Spirit precedes, fashioning our true selves. My friends, we can never construct the personality that pleases God, but God can and He promises to do exactly that. While yet still wallowing in sin-as the minor chords of Satan’s chorus played deafly in our ears-the end had been written. And like melancholy upon the ears, the major chords of the written refrain broke through to calm us-“Jesus Saves.” And as a result, “I am unashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”

Friday, June 18, 2010

Unashamed-The Gift of Shame

Just as my body would respond with loud pain if I broke my arm, so will my conscience speak very loudly with shame in the case of wrongdoing so that I will take the necessary steps of healing. Shame is not a state to cultivate or an emotion to be paralyzed in-though Satan would choose to reveal it as such. Ironically, God uses our shame so that we can gloriously be redeemed to unashamedness. Shame should have directional movement. Shame could be discribed as the current that helps to flow the river from past sin through the present repentence and restoration to future grace.
Just a few weeks ago, I was watching the Chicago Morning News to learn of an elderly couple found in their home, nearly dead. As I watched the story unfold, I was amazed to learn of the reason for their entrappment. This elderly couple were serious hoarders. Authorities mentioned that when they enetered the home they found that from ceiling to floor was trash. This couple lacked in the ability to throw things away; the natural receptor that would cause most people to throw things away as they deemed them unusable or rotten was lacking in the lives of this elderly couple. They reasoned that the trash they were keeping was not trash, but indeed things that they needed in their lives to help settle their souls from fear of losing everything and having nothing. Unfortunately, the very trash they hoarded to heal their souls was the trash that nearly took their lives. For nearly four days, the couple was trapped under an avalanche of trash.
As I sat amazed-and quite frankly chuckling-at the situation, I was reminded of how my soul really is no different than this elderly couple. I am a hoarder of expectations and selfishness. I soothe shame by surrounding myself with sin. I reason such thoughts and emotions away forcing my mind to believe I “need” such. I am sinking in the trash that surrounds me. Sadly, I am slowly being trapped by my own shame.
I wonder at what point the elderly couple switched form thinking that the stuff they had been hoarding was healthy for them and stuff of which they needed, to the undeniable wish and desire to have all the stuff lifted from them? To what extent must shame take us before we respond with a call for help?