The Church: a vision for present and future

A ship is built for two reasons: to weather the conditions of travel and to carry passengers to a destination. Both are necessary for a proper vessel.

One may build a church to weather cultural/social conditions with little regard for the destination. One may also envision and build a church for the destination with little regard for the tumultuous journey.

A vision for the future equips for the present. And an engagement in the present sets the course for the future.

The Battle for Jerusalem

Jerusalem, the most unique city on the earth. Everyone has an opinion on it. It divides, it unites, it infuriates; rejoicing and sorrow have filled its ancient streets. Is there any other like it?

During its long history, Jerusalem has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice. (wikipedia)

5 verses that help us understand this conflicting world epicenter:

On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— Gen. 15:18

This covenant with Abraham is an everlasting, unconditional promise. In the promise, God took up both sides of the agreement while Abraham slept. No one, save God, is able to nullify this pact. In fact, even the descendants of Abraham can’t nullify it. It’s as sure as the sunrise. Read these intriguing developments for yourself in Genesis 15 (see also: Gen. 12:1-3, 7, 13:14-15, 17:8, 22:2)

“Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.” – Ps. 2:6

Who is speaking here? David, is eavesdropping into a heavenly conversation between the Father and the Son. Here the Father is asserting His insistence that Jerusalem (Zion) will be the capital of His Son’s Kingdom. The Father will establish His King, Jesus, on that mount in Israel.

“Then it shall come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in the land in those days,” says the Lord, “that they will say no more, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it, nor shall it be made anymore. “At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem.” – Jeremiah 3:17

The throne of Christ will be seated in Jerusalem. This is the place on earth from which He will rule the nations. This is a future promise. Notice what the prophet is highlighting “at that time;” Israel will be multiplied and increased in the land and they will not call to mind the Ark of the Covenant. This indicates a future state of the Jewish people after they recognize Yeshua as Messiah, the Coming One. After that time of revival (see Rom. 11:26; Zech. 12) Jerusalem will be established as the seat of Messiah’s government.

“[Jerusalem]…is the city of the great King.” – Mt. 5:35

Christ, as the descendant of Abraham, is inextricably linked to this city. He, Himself, calls it the city of the great King. This title did not change or take on a spiritual fulfillment after His ascension to heaven It remains the city of the great King. That king will come and restore the kingdom of Israel, as the apostles anticipated (Acts 1:6), and make Jerusalem the capital of the whole world.

“I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” – Is. 62:6, 7

We are in the days that the Lord is raising up intercessors who will stand up on behalf of Jerusalem. They will pray in accordance with the desire of God for this city and its people. God does not hold His peace in His relentless purpose for this city (Is. 62:1); believers will not hold their peace for His purposes for this city. The city will be a praise in the earth. Very few people see it as a praise; more often, it is seen as troubling. When the Lord makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth it means that the other nations, especially the surrounding nations, will acknowledge the sovereign purpose of God for this city. They will rejoice in its light (the glory of God) and bow before its King- Christ. (see also Ps. 122:6; Rom. 10:1)

And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations [after the Day of the Lord, 14:1) which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.

Jerusalem will exist after the Day the Lord ensuing judgment. The nations who are left will come and worship before Christ in His capital. These nations all stood against Israel and her King prior to the Day of the Lord. After that time, they (we) will celebrate the feast that honors the commitment of God to dwell among His people forever.

As believers, we must resist the temptation to accept any narrative devoid of the Word of God. We must seek to have the heart of Jesus for all players involved: Israel, Palestine, and the nations. If we neglect seeking divine understanding of the conflict, we will by default accept the secular narrative. This issue is a complex issue involving the lives and destinies of many peoples, all the more it is critical that we are in line with Jesus during these historic times.

The Appropriate and Realistic Nature of the House of Prayer

Is the House of Prayer a valid modern expression within the body of Christ that both honors the Word of God and gives expression to the prophetic trajectory of that body? I believe that the House of Prayer is a most appropriate and realistic modern expression for the following reasons.

It is appropriate because it primarily exists to declare the incredible worth of the nature and beauty of God. This stands in stark contrast to the world and its value system which advertises all manner of important “must haves.” It asks not, “What can I come and get,” but, “What can I come and give?”

Further, it’s expression is the only realistic response we may have as finite creatures that must eat and sleep. No single person can worship God day and night. Which begs the question, how few or how many people can adequately worship God in light of the following ideas?

God called His house a “House of Prayer,” and this He knew and named with both our fragility and His glory in mind. With our vaporous existence and limitations of natural strength a House of Prayer is what was concocted in the mind of God. It is the perfectly constructed place for those children adopted into His glorious nature and family.

Just as a father adopting children makes provisions that adequately meet the needs and purposes of those He brings into his household, so the Heavenly Father constructed the optimal place of relationship and belonging and named it “A House of Prayer for all nations.”

But, why prayer and worship? What can we really give God? What glory can we really add to Him whose glory possess no bounds? What good or merciful deed can we do for the Author of goodness and mercy that would impress Him or adequately convey those attributes to another?

None. This why incense is repeatedly used in scripture to denote our worship before God. It is portrayed as incense simply because it is for the enjoyment of the God to whom it is offered.

In God’s dwelling, when the confines of sin, death and common mortality are put off we see the life and activity of those constituents. What do they do? What do they say? When do they say it? The answer is found in Rev. 4:8 – unceasing worship and adoration of God. This is not a novel expression but a necessary and practical one.

Pursue the Heart

Pursuing the heart of those we’re leading, whether in ministry, or in our home can be extremely powerful and personally humbling.

From the hearts springs forth the issues of life (Prov 4:23, Mt. 12:34). Nothing that is done externally is disconnected from something internally. The heart beats, the blood flows, the body moves.

Emphasis in ministry can be put on outward fruit of those we’re leading. Every leader has created some sort of ideal. That ideal determines how much action we put forth into a situation. When someone we’re leading breaks the mold of expectation, red flags are raised and we respond with action.

Sometimes I feel like I’m scrambling to put out fires when my aim should be starting fires. A fire started for Christ in the heart of a person becomes more powerful than exerting my pastoral energy to put out their heart fires. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is much better pastor than I will ever be. A. W. Tozer said something to effect of, “When we think rightly about God 10,000 lesser problems are dealt with.” (not an exact quote)

The root of our life, as Proverbs says, is the heart. What is in the heart? The answer to 01-06-11_OldAppleTree_Hxbythat will tell you what type of fruit will be born. Scrambling to “pick off” the bad fruit from someones life can be as frustrating as picking off damaged apples from an orchard of apple trees. If the apples are diseased the root of the tree must be examined to see of what quality it is.

In the garden God called to the man and the woman saying, “Where are you?” God knew where they were. The problem was that they didn’t know where they were. They were disconnected at the heart level from the current situation. Their hearts had believed a lie, bought into deception, and acted upon it. Similarly, Jesus when restoring Peter doesn’t say to him, “Peter, don’t ever deny me again.” What does He ask?

“Peter do you love Me?”

Peter’s denial would never resurface again if his heart was deeply connected to loving Jesus. A revelation of Christ on the inside will lead to an expression of Christ on the outside.

Pray Ephesians 1:17. Pray it for yourself. Pray it for those whom you lead. Let God give us revelation of His Son at the root of our lives.

A Sip of the Ocean

Which comes first worship or the object of worship?

God is beautiful and that beauty is transcendent. Webster defines transcendent as: being beyond the limits of all possible experience or knowledge. Simply put, it is impossible to know all of God; and because of His nature it’s impossible to know Him at all unless He reveals Himself to us. And further, no matter how much he reveals there is an infinite amount more that is possible to discover.

When God reveals His beauty to us, we catch a glimpse of His nature, but it’s just that: a glimpse.

Think of the creatures that circle the throne (as depicted in Rev. 4), as far as we know, they are creatures with most worship experience. They’re before God day and night and they’re covered in lid-less eyes for gazing at the One seated on the throne. The being with the most knowledge on the beauty of God doesn’t even really know a measurable part of it. Why? Because God is infinite. Not just in His expanse and existence but, in this case, His beauty.

Think of how large the oceans of our planet are. Estimates are that 36,614,237,300,000,000,000,000 gallons of water fill the oceans, lakes, streams, and rivers on the earth. Let’s say that the water on the planet is the beauty of God. We can take sip of water, drink a gallon or 2 during 1 day, over our lifetime we can drink thousands, if not millions of gallons of water. But what is a million gallons compared to the number above? It is incredibly negligible.

Here’s where the analogy breaks down: there is no measurable number or amount to attribute the beauty of God’s nature. Even if our entire solar system and the galaxies of the universe were comprised of water it would still be measurable. God’s beauty is immeasurable.

When our hearts encounter the beauty of God revealed at that magnitude it produces something in heart of human beings, worship. Worship is a response to beauty. We don’t start with worship and hope we end up seeing beauty. Rather, we start with beauty to bring forth worship. True beauty will produce pure worship. Those that worship God most perfectly are the ones who see Him most clearly.

Seeing Others as God Sees Us

The voice on the other end of the line was saying something that I was not grasping.

“I want you to jump in with me, into Student Ministries.”

“What is that?” I replied. I had no idea what Student Ministries was or meant. The only image that filled my mind was college campus outreaches replete with super hero tracts.

“It’s youth ministry. Teen Ministry,” the voice replied. More images flooded my mind. This time it was pizza parties and sweaty roller skating. I had no intention of ever roller skating…ever, if possible.

“Bro, I don’t do pizza and roller skates.”

“Good, neither do I.”

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This was the conversation that launched my wife, our 2 kids, and I into full-time youth ministry. We uprooted from our comfy home in Fort Mill, SC and made a 16 hour journey to move back to Kansas City where I had grown up. We had recently heard the call and moved from there just 4 years earlier.

My view of teenagers, like most of yours, was rooted in a horrifying thought: myself a teenager. When I closed my eyes, I saw myself at 15: idealistic, way too confident with bad ideas, scared others opinions and ashamed of my life failures. It wasn’t until a couple years later that I realized my distaste for youth ministry was, in reality, a distaste for myself.

Every summer, the ministry I worked for ran a God-focused teen camp. Young people would come from all up and down the east coast for 2-3 weeks and trounce around our ministry facilities. Break things. Break lots of things. Say the wrong things. Mix up bible verses. Sweat. And then sweat on top of that sweat. It drove me crazy.

The way I viewed stereotypes, as far as teenagers go, was this: they’re pretty much all true.  Why is it that being around teenagers is something we see as having to endure?

After re-locating to Kansas City, I tried to get my mind around what was happening, and what was this great mystery called, “youth ministry” all about? I remember the first night heading into youth service with my wife and kids in tow. About 100 teenagers were dotted throughout a darkened room with a well-lit blue stage at the front. Cool sounding harmonies and guitar lines floated out of the speakers. One of my first thoughts was, “Wow, we have really good music.” Throughout the night we were greeted by 1 teen. I mean, we were the new guys. They no doubt were intimidated by our outrageous coolness.

The first year was a huge challenge. Not only was I learning a ton about youth ministry and trying to acclimate to an unfamiliar, albeit soundly forgotten world, but I didn’t realize I had massive adjustments to make. The difficulty ofttimes isn’t in the learning itself, it’s realizing you’re learning. Like many, I came in idealistic, thinking I had so much to offer. Which I did. But something else began to happen in that first year. Something surprising. Something that I wouldn’t have believed if you had told me.

Youth leaders are a rare breed. And they’re getting rarer. On average the American youthImage leader stays connected 18 months before moving on. Because of this (and other dynamics), the youth ministry world is in state of constant flux. Whenever I meet another youth leader that’s been in the game for longer than a year or 2 there’s kind of an unspoken understanding that passes between us. Most youth leaders are under immense pressure that derives from 2 key places: themselves and their pastors.

The youth leader can often see themselves as above those they are leading. After all, I’m older and have more life experience. What could a teenager actually teach me? If asked a question that I don’t know the answer to, I have enough lingo to fake my through it without giving substance and definitely without admitting, “I don’t know.” As a 30 or so year old, it can be difficult seeing ourselves invested long-term into youth ministry. Youth ministry can in many ways become the training ground for “real ministry” that we’ll hopefully (dear Lord, hopefully) graduate into after our time is done.

Senior pastors love the idea of having a fiery, growing youth group. Heck, that sounds awesome to me. But the way that it plays out after the youth pastor is hired and sent to shepherd the sheep is not always pretty. Reason: metric of success. What is the metric of success for the youth group? For many, the measure of success is if the youth group gets bigger from year to year and if those graduating continue to attend and tithe at the grown up’s service. It takes a little self-honesty to actually see it this way. It can be dressed up in lots of different ways, but unfortunately it can’t be re-told for what it is.

Those youth pastors “grow up” and do the same thing that was done to them. Broken fathering taught by broken fathers.

When I began youth ministry, the Lord began doing something shocking: ministering to me. What I saw as broken, what I saw as annoying, I began to see as…me. I was broken. I was in some ways more broken than those I was leading.

Because of the nature of my job (the mind and heart of teenagers) the Holy Spirit began to take me on a journey. That journey was not fame, appreciation from others, and powerful testimonies as I had imagined. It was a journey into my youth. He began to ask me:

“Isaac, when you think of yourself as a teenager, what do you see? What do you think I see?”

This process was often uncomfortable. But through it, my heart began to receive healing from the pain I had incurred over 10 years before. As this happened, the Lord gave me new eyes to see those whom I was leading. No longer was I focused solely on the outward brokenness and immaturity. I began to actually enjoy the teenagers.

I began to enjoy teenagers when I saw that God enjoyed me when I was a teenager.

In spite of my sin, self, and pride. God still took me seriously. The decisions I made to love Him and choose Him in my teenage years were so precious to the Lord. At the time I was so wracked with guilt I thought they were more along the lines of wishful thinking than earth shattering resolves.

Principle: we grow slowly, over time, making consistent decisions (rather than perceived radical ones).

I get to enjoy teenagers because God enjoys teenagers.

The power of misapplied truth

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The power of gossip lies in the power of tongue. What cursing does to dilute the effective power of our words, gossips does to our relationships. Gossip brings a wedge into the relational dynamic of a community. Reputations can be ruined or jaded because of gossip.

Humans have a natural affinity for gossip. We like to talk about other people in a way that exposes their weaknesses. Why is this? Because it brings a perceived level of justification to the one who is gossiping or hearing gossip. Simply, it moves our flesh in a self-gratifying way.

There is an insatiable itch in the human heart to be accepted, received, and celebrated. Rather that finding that desire satisfied in the Lord, we bring that praise to ourselves in a round-a-bout way by speaking negatively (though truthfully) about those around us. When we say of someone, “They are really lacking in some areas,” aren’t we really saying, “Look at me, I’m not like them, I don’t have those flaws”?

Gossip is talking truthfully about someone when that person is not present. Scripture tells us to speak the truth in love. Over and over we see Jesus speaking the truth in love (though it can bite) in the very presence of those whom He talking about. Gossip is afraid of conflict. It cares little that a person is changed and renewed. Gossip, though speaking of someone else, is quite self-centered; it has little to do with that person, loving them, or helping them grow and mature.

We are the body of Christ. If the eye despises the hand then the body cannot operate in continuity with the mind and heart. The eye can see what the hand cannot, but the hand can remove from the eye what is ailing. Gossip is when the eye refuses to help the hand and the hand refuses to help the eye.

How then shall we live? Repent of the times that we have gossiped against our brothers and sisters. Invite the Holy Spirit into our thoughts during conversation, “Are these words pleasing to You, Lord?” Make it an aim to praise others and encourage them in their presence.