Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Day Marriage -As We Know It- Almost Died

The Supreme Court didn't attempt to define marriage today . . . but that day is coming. 

For the record, here's how the Son of God defines marriage:

In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus responds to a question about divorce:
He (Jesus) answered, "Haven't you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female?  And because of this, a man leaves father and mother and is firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh - no longer two bodies but one.  Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart."

If people don't believe in the Bible, then I totally understand why they don't understand where Evangelical Christians stand on this issue. I don't expect them to agree with me.  But think about this, once we leave our Christian heritage for good, who gets to define right and wrong?  If you don’t use the Bible as your measuring stick, what do you use? 

My life is built on the Bible, the word of God. That is my standard of truth. The Bible is my worldview.  Everything I believe must pass through the lens of my Biblical worldview. Period.

In 2013, Americans enjoy freedom of speech and religion.  That doesn’t mean my words and my beliefs are popular. In fact, they’re quickly becoming the opposite. No matter how unpopular my Biblical beliefs become, I will continue to stand for the Biblical definition of marriage. There may come a day when pastors are penalized and even put in jail for not agreeing to marry gay couples. That will not stop our family from preaching the truths found in the word of God. 

Why are so many churches embracing the homosexual lifestyle, even allowing homosexual pastors in their pulpits?  I think it depends on that church's or that denomination’s interpretation of the Bible.  Some people take the whole Bible as literal truth, some people take it metaphorically, some take what they like and throw out the rest, (just look up “Biblical hermeneutics” to see all the ways to interpret scripture!) etc.  I’ve always been a cover-to-cover girl.  I believe the Old & New Testament.  If something is a sin in the Old Testament & it’s still called sin in the New Testament, then it’s wrong.  Not just wrong for a specific time in history, but wrong for all time. 

Do I hate people who are living a gay lifestyle?  Heavens no!  Are they welcome in my church?  You better believe it!  If we didn't allow people with issues into our church, no one would be there!  We've all got issues! Homosexuality is just one of the sins in the Bible, just as gossip, lying, stirring up dissension, taking bribes, violence, adultery, stealing, drinking too much, etc. is wrong.  Do I hate people who gossip?  Or people who lie? No!  But, hypothetically speaking, I’m not going to suddenly say it’s ok to gossip and to lie just because it’s the politically correct thing to do . . .

Do I sympathize with people who are attracted to the same sex?  Absolutely.  As believers, each one of us is a sinner saved by grace.  Even after salvation, we struggle with temptations of the flesh.  This is why we so desperately need a Savior.  He boldly asks us to “Take up our cross and follow Him.”  It won’t always be easy, and there will be a cost to following Jesus.  This is why we need to be born again.  We willingly die to the flesh. We ask the Spirit to take over—and over time, as we walk with Him, He sanctifies us and makes us more like Christ. 

I could add a bunch of links to Bible verses that support my beliefs.  But if you really want to know the truth, you will Google them for yourself and read them in context with the chapter before & after (it's dangerous to take a scripture out of context). If you want to continue to agree with popular thinking, you won’t take the time.  

I didn't write this blog to change your mind, which is probably already made up on this issue.

I guess I just wanted to draw a line in the sand today and say, I stand on the side of marriage between a man and a woman.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Don't Build a Building. Build the Kingdom.

This morning I spoke with one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential people for 2013”.

Pastor Wilfred De Jesus (a.k.a. Pastor “Choco” short for chocolate, his boyhood nickname) struck me as a man who matches the description found in Nehemiah 7:2, “. . . he was a faithful man who feared God more than most.”  In the Bible, these words describe Hanani, the governor of Jerusalem appointed by Nehemiah.  In many ways, Pastor Choco is God’s appointed man for the city of Chicago.

When Pastor Choco found out that my husband and I were pastors, he asked me several questions about our ministry.  During our conversation, I made some interesting discoveries about his church in Chicago, New Life Covenant.

After becoming lead pastor of the 120-member church he’d attended since he was a teenager, the church experienced a new wave of growth.  They quickly outgrew their original building.  NLC moved their Sunday services to a high school for the next 10 years.  He told me, “We weren’t in a hurry to build a building.  We knew that would take all our money. Instead, for the first 10 years we bought foreclosed properties around Chicago to do kingdom work.” 

Some of NLC’s “kingdom work” included a homeless shelter, an outreach to drug addicts and prostitutes, and a Chicago Dream Center, just to mention a few.

But God had other plans for NLC beyond renting the high school.  In 2012, the school kicked the church out for the summer. With 4,000 members their options weren’t just limited; they literally had nowhere to go!

Pastor Choco said the Lord told him something unexpected. NLC was to meet on Sundays under a tent. It sounded crazy.  No word from God beyond that.  Just "meet under a tent."

So, ALL summer--in heat, in humidity, thunderstorms, and the infamous wind of Chicago—NLC continued their 5 services under a tent.  He said matter-of-factly, "Some people left."  He shrugged, “People like convenience.”

Somehow in God’s mysterious way, the time in the tent led to their miracle. Soon after their tent meetings started, God showed the leadership a piece of land to buy. The church was able to secure 100% financing (“even in this crazy recession,” he added), and fifty days later they broke ground.

Rewind. How did the church find out about the land?  After a tent service, Pastor Choco invited the people to go on a walk.  The people didn’t know what he was up to, but they followed him several blocks until he stopped. Pastor Choco stepped up on a mini stage* and shared the big secret—they were standing on their new land where NLC would build a church.

The groundbreaking ceremony was truly unique. The people wrote scriptures on hundreds of rocks gathered from the original property.  Each church member threw one of the rocks into the new foundation. Finally, Pastor Choco put a Bible and a bottle of olive oil into a beautiful box** and buried the treasures directly under where the pulpit would be.  He said, “This church is built upon the Word of God.”

Pastor Choco says his church is also based on the story of Stephen, the martyr stoned for his faith—“if you stand up for God, He will stand up for you.” He learned this at an early age.  At 14 he accepted Christ as his savior. In his rough Chicago neighborhood, gang members constantly approached him asking, “Hey, what you be about?”  They meant, “Who do you represent? What gang are you with?” 

Choco would answer, “I represent Jesus Christ. Who you be about?”

Pastor Wilfredo “Choco” de Jesus is truly a “faithful man who fears God more than most.”  After meeting him, there’s no doubt his influence on Chicago, the church, government, and social justice stems from his passionate and unswerving faith in Jesus Christ. 

Young "Choco"

*Pastor Choco tells his church, "This is where we will build."

**Pastor Choco buries a Bible under the future pulpit area

One of 5 Sunday services in the high school

A couple interesting tidbits that didn't exactly fit in the blog:

1)  After his interview, I commented to Rico, one of his pastors who was traveling with him, “That must have taken lots of courage-- at 14, to stand up to gangsters and tell them, ‘I represent Jesus.’” 
He said, “Ya, I witnessed lots of those times.”
“You’ve known him that long?  You two go back that far?”
He nodded, “Thirty-one years.”
I thought that spoke volumes of his leadership, that a friend from his teenage years is still arm-in-arm with him in ministry.

2)  Before Pastor Choco sat down for his 700 Club interview I asked him, “Do you know the mayor of Chicago?” 

He said, “Ya. He was at my church 3 Weds. nights ago.” 
Friends, there’s hope for Chicago!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

This Calls For a Fast

Is it time to sharpen your ax?
It happens to all of us in ministry . . . we just don’t seem to be as effective as we once were.  We become like a dull ax. 

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the 1st four sharpening the ax.”  Lincoln knew two things:

1)  a dull ax makes for far more work
2)  a dull ax can be much more dangerous than a well-sharpened one.  It can glance off the wood and cause you to cut your leg!

Ecclesiastes 10:10 says, “If the ax is dull, and one does not sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength; but wisdom brings success.”

A few years ago, I broke down.  Totally lost all hope.  I’d received some devastating news.  An ongoing trial in my life had suddenly become much worse.  To tell you the truth, I’m still in the middle of the trial, and I’m not at liberty to share it yet. Trust me when I say it is the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced. Not only did I want to give up, but I also wanted to go to my room, shut the door, and never come out again. 

Overcome with despair, I knew I needed to do something desperate to get back to an internal place of faith and victory. I needed to sharpen my ax!  Fasting immediately came to mind. I knew the situation I faced would require more than a one day fast.  I saw a God-set up in my schedule: my husband was leaving the next day for a men’s yearly snowboarding trip and the kids were in school. Seizing the opportunity, I called my work and asked for the next three days off.  My boss knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t ask for time off at the last minute if it weren’t serious.

Do you hate fasting?  Can’t fast?  Maybe you get a migraine when you fast, etc?  I’ll bet you are tempted to stop reading, but please hear me out . . .

I’m not here to give you ONE MORE THING on your spiritual “to do” list.  No pressure from me!  Whenever I feel God calling me to do a fast, I usually do it kicking and screaming!  It’s just that fasting is a real life solution that works.  Know this: God will empower you to start and complete your fast. Remember, Jesus also expects us to fast.  He didn’t say IF you fast, He said, “WHEN you fast . . .” (Matt. 6:16) Jesus understands the difficulties, because he fasted 40 days.  But, Jesus told us that some demonic strongholds are only broken by prayer and fasting. (Matt. 17:21)

As I get older, I’m more convinced that fasting is not so much a God-please-see-my-sacrifice-and-answer-my-prayer-this-instant fix, but it’s about getting back my spiritual mojo.  Renewing my faith for the long haul.  Staying strong.  Getting the focus back on my BIG GOD instead of my big problems.

Here’s a few tips for your adventure in fasting:

Listen to the Holy Spirit for a word from the Lord. Spend some of your fasting time just listening to the Holy Spirit.  I guarantee that He will give you a takeaway word--something you will be able to stand on when the situation looks hopeless.  I received a word from the Lord, “This will end well.”  My faith shot up!  I can endure just about any dark story if I know it will have a positive ending.  That word continues to see me through low points along my journey.

Learn from others during your fast. During my fast, I read Jentezen Franklin’s book, The Fasting Edge*, Ruth Bell Graham’s book, Prodigals and Those Who Love Them**, and the words of Jesus in the 4 gospels.  The lessons, personal stories, and words of Jesus empowered and encouraged me.  I recommend having a book to study during your fast and choosing a book of the Bible or a character in the Bible to study. 

Journal throughout your fast.  While reading the various books, I received specific hope-filled promises concerning the situation I faced.  I wrote every single one of them down and then some.  With each quote, promise, truth, or revelation, I wrote and I got stronger.  My faith level began to increase.  I was no longer playing defense; I was back on offense!  The enemy is gonna pay for messing with me!  He’s going DOWN!

Claim your promises with your voice.  As I wrote the promises into my journal, I spoke them out loud.  Sometimes I walked around the room, looked up to Heaven, and boldly asked God to bring the promises to pass.  If you’d been a fly on the wall, you would have thought, “Crazy woman!” But I was doing some warfare prayer and I meant business!

Practical do’s & don’ts:  When you fast, try to get away from your normal routine if possible.  Get quiet and still.  Drink plenty of water and clear liquids. Get someone else to do the cooking and stay out of the kitchen.  Take a break from media/tv/technology as much as possible.  Keep worship music on continuously.  Get out in nature and experience God’s creation. Enjoy the presence of God!

Jentezen Franklin says if you will fast, the Holy Spirit will replenish you and your authority in Christ.  He’s right!   So, if you are in crisis, quit-mode, or you just feel like a dull ax . . . let me encourage you—give fasting a try.  It’s time to sharpen the ax!

*The "sharpen the ax" theme in this blog came from reading Jentezen Franklin's book, The Fasting Edge.  He goes into much more biblical truth behind this metaphor. I highly recommend this book!
**This book is perfect for anyone praying for a prodigal son, daughter, or family member. I've read and reread this book--it's a wonderful hodge podge of stories, poems, thoughts, verses that Ruth collected and wrote herself when her children were away from God.  

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Should I Start A Church?

My son Ryder putting the signs out
Church planting certainly has its ups and downs.  On one particularly down day, I seriously wanted to quit.  God encouraged me by saying, “You’re a trailblazer.”

I didn’t know anything about trailblazing except this:  a trailblazer has to go first.

When we first moved to Virginia, my kids and I were constantly overwhelmed by the amount of trees and the denseness of the endless forests.  We’d often comment, "How did the settlers ever get anywhere?!"  It was apparent a good portion of their time was spent clearing the land and blazing trails.

What is a trailblazer?

trailblazers  plural of trail·blaz·er (Noun)
1. A person who makes a new track through wild country.
2. A pioneer; an innovator.
3. One that blazes a trail to guide others1

When I looked up the word and read the definition, I was motivated to keep going! Giving up was NOT an option.  God’s assignment for me was to plant this new church in “wild country” and He considered me innovative – wow!  Let’s do this!

The apostle Paul was a trailblazer extraordinaire.  He knew he was called to go first.  He preached in heathen cities to hostile crowds, endured incredible hardship, and said bold things like “Follow me as I follow Christ.” (I Cor. 11:1) We know Paul started 14 churches in different cities, and it’s very likely he started more. 

Why we need trailblazers

Many of us love to walk on well-worn nature trails, enjoying the beauty and fresh air that surrounds us.  But have you ever taken the time to consider the hard work that went into building that trail?  Someone had to do the dirty, sweaty, backbreaking work to make something wonderful for future nature lovers to enjoy.

Church planters are pioneers.  Led by the Holy Spirit, they go to a particular area and do the hard work necessary to make sure that for generations to come, people will have a place to find Jesus, worship corporately and enjoy the presence of God.
What does a trailblazer do?2

1) Surveys the area for the potential trails; walks the area and takes note of potential hazards.  It’s no different for church planters.  At Three in One, we are currently “surveying” the area near our theatre for the best place to build our church.  We go in with eyes wide open to risks and problems that may arise. Lots of prayer walks to come!

2) Draws a rough map of the trail, realizing adjustments may be necessary.  With any new life venture, writing down the mission and vision is key to success. 

3) Clears the area, beginning with the largest things first (trees, rocks), then the brush, then the weeds. 

To future church planters, the first obstacles are obvious: gathering a core team, raising the finances, etc.  It’s when you get to the removing-the-weeds stage where things get really difficult.  Weeds in a church can be negativity, gossip, someone who stirs up division, etc.  The best way to weed the wrong people out is to do more outreach—the people who are in your church for the wrong reasons want nothing to do with loving and serving people outside of the church. 

4) Builds bridges across the wet, low-lying areas (use what's already there to make your bridge--logs, stepping stones, etc.)

Be a church who “builds bridges” in your community.  Find ways to come alongside others in the area who are in line with why Jesus came—to set captives free (ex. help in drug rehab program) and to heal the brokenhearted (ex. Minister in nursing homes). 

James 1:27 is another standard of where to be in your community.  Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” This can look like serving in local feeding programs, school tutoring/mentoring programs, homeless shelters, etc.

5) Marks the trail with signs

Every Sunday morning at 7:30 am, my son and I drive around the community near our church and put our church sandwich board signs in strategic spots.  After all, what’s the point of having a church if no one knows you’re there? I can’t tell you how many people have come to our church saying, “I saw the signs!”

The best “signs” your church has are your people.  It’s important to create a culture where people learn the power and payoff of inviting people to church and sharing their salvation stories with friends, family, and even strangers.

Are you ready to be the person who goes first?  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." If God has called you to plant a church OR start a new business OR be the first one in your family to serve Christ, OR ,fill-in-the-blank,  He thinks you are a trailblazer!  That’s pretty cool!  Now, go blaze that trail!