Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Well another year has past and a new one is upon us.

Are you where you expected to be by this time?

Has Christ become more real in your life during the past year?

What setbacks have you experienced?

What victories have you had?

We continue to follow the path that God has planned out for us. It is not always easy and at times we are impatient, but there is no better place to be then on the path He has planned for us.

This is a time of reflection and planning. So . . .

May this year bring you a closer walk with Him as you follow His lead! May the Spirit bring new light to you as you study His Word! May Father be pleased as we do the work He has planned for us this New Year!

Happy New Year

Dr. Val

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Legend of Christmas

The past few days I read a number of interesting articles on line. One UK article interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury who told us that that Christmas was a legend. Well I have to tell you that caught my interest!

As I read the article I realized that the Archbishop was referring to things that the Christians have added over the centuries.

“What additions?” you ask.

Well, we don’t know for sure what animals were in the stable if any. But we can assume that there would be cattle, or oxen, sheep or even a donkey.

We also don’t know how many wise men there were. We do know that they gave gifts of three different substances (gold, frankincense and myrrh).

The wise men didn’t show up at the birth of Christ but probably a couple of years later. The passage in Matthew’s account of the wise men’s visit indicates that Jesus was no longer a baby but a young child. Additionally due to Herod’s order to kill all male children two years of age and under we gain a sense of the outside possible age of Jesus.

What do we know?

Jesus the Christ was born and we have three accounts of His birth. We call those accounts Matthew, Luke and John. These accounts are called gospels (good news).

Matthew looks at Jesus’ birth from the Jewish perspective. Jesus is seen as a direct descendant of David the founder of the dynasty of the nation of Israel (and the subsequent kingdom of Judah). Matthew lists Joseph (who would be Jesus’ “human” father because Joseph was married to Mary when Jesus was born and therefore by law the father of Jesus) genealogy and Jesus lawful right to the throne.

In Luke we have the second account of Jesus birth. This time we see him from the perspective of a man. We also are given His mother’s genealogy. This is important for a couple of reasons: first, we have Jesus’ ancestry that goes back to Adam and establishes His claim to David’s throne through His mother’s line. Second, God promised that one particular King of David’s line would never have a son sit on the throne again and Joseph was from this line. Thus God keeps His promise even while keeping the official line in tack.

In John’s Gospel we have the story of Jesus birth from God’s perspective. The Word who always was and is of the same essence as God the Father becomes flesh to do the Father’s bidding and to redeem all of creation.

Each account of Jesus’ birth gives us the story from a different perspective. Think of the truth of Christ’s birth as a multifaceted jewel. Each time you turn the gem slightly you see the gem and the fire of the gem from a different angle and thus from a different perception.

May the Creator who became the Created in order to redeem His Creation grant you a blessed and joyous Christmas this year!

Peace on earth

Dr. Val

Monday, December 17, 2007

And it came to pass . . .

A couple of days ago Randy Vader, president of PraiseGathering Music, shared this with a group of ministry people on a email list. Randy is not only president of a Christian music publishing company; he is also a prolific writer. In my opinion he often has profound thoughts that he shares with the Church community. He offered to let us share his Christmas thoughts with people in our ministries and I thought of you. I hope his thoughts will bless you as much as they have blessed me these past few days.

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus . . .

And it came to pass . . . I have always loved the poetic nuance of Luke's preamble to the story of the Incarnation. The simplicity of the language seems to suggest that these events unfolded almost casually, unremarkably, inevitably. Nothing could be further from the truth. Make no mistake – from the first cry that escaped from the lungs of that newborn baby, the plan of redemption that had been in place from the foundation of the world became locked in the dimensions of time and space as decreed by God the Creator. As in all the plans of the Father, the timing was perfect. And now we celebrate a story rooted in antiquity, vibrant and alive in the present, and guided by a sure and steady Hand toward the future. Christmas cannot be relegated to just an historical event. Christmas cannot be revered just for its ancient traditions. Christmas cannot be redefined into a non-defined national holiday. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, the Christ - who was conceived of the Holy Spirit - born of the Virgin Mary. Christmas is about discovery. Christmas is about believing in the miraculous attaching itself to the commonplace. Christmas is about Heaven touching Earth through promises made and promises kept. Christmas is about the wisdom of trusting and obeying, of seeking and finding. Christmas is about finally knowing that if you follow - there is a way home. The path to the Father may be a narrow way – but it is clearly marked by a manger, a bloodstained cross and an empty tomb. Our lives are inextricably woven into these sacred reminders of sacred holidays.

I had the joy of watching my children begin to grasp the significance of Christmas – which made the season so much more rich and meaningful. Then they grew up and moved away and I dreamed of one day having the chance to relive the joy through our grandchildren. And it came to pass . . .

Randy Vader - Christmas 2007

May you come to understand His Gift in a deeper way this Christmas season!

Dr. Val

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Exodus vs. Exile

Have you ever spent some time thinking about the nation of Israel and their Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land? In this story we see God’s concern for the injustice that Israel suffered. Israel oppressed and they call out to God for deliverance and He answers them by calling Moses to be the agent of their deliverance (Exodus 3:7-12). This paradigm is familiar throughout the New Testament. The theme of captivity, bondage and exodus is expressed in a number of passages but it can be seen especially in Hebrews 3:1-6.

This theme of deliverance was especially impactful throughout Church history. Perhaps achieving its pinnacle in the American church, where it became a way of life. Think about the early pilgrims who founded the Plymouth and Massachusetts colonies. They were fleeing from oppression and hoped to find the Promise Land for themselves and their progeny. With the passing of years the desire to flee and move further and further west in their pursuit of spiritual and religious freedom became an overarching idea throughout the church in America. This pursuit of exodus was often linked with a belief in our rightness and the blessing of God upon our endeavors. We saw in our westward movement a sense of God’s intervention in our behalf and a divine destiny. In the past Americans have equated our national interest with God’s interest. This exodus mentality has provided us with a sense of destiny and that has affected our understanding of Christianity, or at least American white middle class Christianity. We rarely read Scripture through any other lens then our own.

We see the Exodus event as an escape rather then as a deliverance to serve. (Take another look at Exodus 3:7-12). We have often used this paradigm as an excuse for a lifestyle that promotes consumerism and a lack of interest in true worship and its results, true justice (Isaiah 1:10-17)

We are addicted to consumerism partly because of this Promise Land mentality. We believe that our acquiring of things will satisfy our hunger. Hunger is equated to still being on the journey to the Promised Land where hunger will be alleviated. Unfortunately, after succumbing to the advertising and marketing of these things that promise to assuage our hunger, we find we are soon restless and our appetite is unsatisfied and unfulfilled. This is because we have not learned to find our rest and satisfaction in the Lord.

Now in the exile paradigm which is also found in the Old Testament, God is concerned because of the injustice that Israel has perpetuated. Israel causes its own subjugation by its continued disobedience to live a life of deliverance in the Promised Land.

God promises Abraham that he and his progeny are blessed to be a blessing. This promise is now to be lived out in exile in Babylon. Israel’s call is to work out what it means to dwell as a stranger in a foreign land and yet to live as those who belong to Yahweh. God places His people in a position where they are expected to stay under their tribulation and live as exiles. This means there is no escape from their problem only perseverance (James 1) and to of all things, seek the welfare of their captors.

“Also, seek the peace [shalom] and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers [in shalom], you too will prosper [in shalom].” Jeremiah 29:7 (NIV)

Think of Daniel and then think of his modern day equivalents. The best and brightest men and women of their nations, who have chosen to stay and help their people and their nations by using their skills in difficult situations instead of journeying to the Promise Land (USA) where life is easy compared to their situation. We need to pray for their safety and ask God to bless their efforts to expand the Kingdom.

In the New Testament the church is called to exile as well as exodus.

“While we are highly attuned to avoid a faithful peculiarity that might offend, we also avoid a faithful peculiarity that might redeem. While we run from what might cause cultural or personal offence, we opt for benign acceptance of so many things that grieve our Lord Jesus Christ” (The Dangerous Act of Worship – Mark Labberton p.143)

Our unwillingness to live as exiles, faithful to our King, explains our willingness to let culture transform our lives instead of our transformation of culture. It also explains our willingness to fight meaningless worship wars instead of fighting the spiritual war of the Kingdom. We fight for our personal preferences instead of fighting to introduce people to the King.

It’s harder to live in exile then to live in exodus. We are forced to put down roots and live a life that interacts with the culture, to engage our culture and to speak to the issues of the day from a true Kingdom mindset.

“If we think we live in exodus, life is about getting to the promised land we think we deserve and desire. On the other hand, if we think we live in exile, then life’s agenda is all about living distinctly where we are and determining whether our home in God or in ‘Babylon’ will influence us most.” (Labberton, p.144)

Where we live is determined by how we live.

Worship in exodus is expressed in gratitude for our release form captivity to serve our God. While in the exile dimension, worship is the practice of our peculiar identity in a culture that is familiar yet foreign to us.

We are called to both exodus and exile living as New Testament believers. As Kingdom citizens we have often perverted the former while ignoring the latter. Today let’s not forget our profound gratitude for our deliverance while also not ignoring our responsibility to represent our King as his ambassadors until He returns!

Until He Returns

Dr Val

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Organism vs. Organization

I’ve been mulling over the terms Scripture uses to describe the church. We know that the church is referred to as the way, bride, family and body, just to name a few. The interesting thing that we notice from all of the metaphors used to describe the church tells us that the church is supposed to be relational. Another way of describe this is to refer to the church as organismal and not organizational.

To be honest, this is something that many churches either miss or ignore, especially as a church grows in age and/or size.

Organization (def.) - an administrative and functional structure

When a church gentrifies it often solidifies into an organization, the same thing happens when a church grows exponentially. Now don’t get me wrong, organization is important for any church. Without it we would have chaos! Even the early church experienced the need of organization when it became necessary to create deacons to help meet the growing needs of the widows and less fortunate (Acts 6:1-6). But the elders continued to be focused on their calling, prayer and ministry of the Word.

Organism (def.) - a complex structure of interdependent and subordinate elements whose relations and properties are largely determined by their function in the whole

But the church is designed to be an organism. We are called to reproduce and we are dependant on each other for our vitality and for the fulfillment of our reason to exist on this earth, the advancement of the Kingdom (until Christ’s return).

Often when a church grows, a major problem is that the staff is either understaffed and quickly forsakes organism for organization to accomplish many of their tasks, or even worse they become professional organizers.

When people are overwhelmed with their work or ministry, they either ignore the very people who can help them or they create a bureaucracy to alleviate their workload hoping to discourage people from volunteering. Then church staff complains about their lack of volunteers needed to accomplish their ministries.

I am reminded of an experience that my wife had with a former worship pastor at a mega-church before they were called mega. She went in to speak with him and offered her services (she is an incredible keyboard player) She told him that that she wanted to serve in some capacity at the church, anything would be great, including playing for a SS class, just some place where she could serve. The worship pastor leaned back in his chair and said, “You mean you want me to create something for you to do?” DUH! Ah, yeah!!! That’s what a servant leader does. Train people to do the work of the ministry and then give ministry away!

If you don’t believe it, check out Eph 4:11-12.

In fact, think about this in 1 Corinthians we are told that the church is a body and that every part is important. The body is not complete and cannot function as God created it to function unless every part is doing its job. Can you imagine a body telling the lungs take a breather we don’t need you? Or the heart, would you stop all the pounding. Or the legs, you can sit this one out. And yet this is the attitude of many in leadership in today’s church.

We pray that God sends us the people we need to fulfill our mission here in this location but we fail to use or are too busy to use the very resources that God has provided.

We devalue the very people we are called to serve. We are often more interested in the “Big Picture” and neglect the “little grapes”. I am reminded that while Jesus ministered to the multitude, almost every miracle He did while He was here on earth was focused on the individual. The only exceptions I can think of are the water into wine and the two times that Jesus fed the multitudes. But think about the blind man, the leper, the woman with an issue of blood, the child raised from the dead or even Lazarus. Every one of these and so many more were Jesus caring for the individual. Perhaps in the midst of our “Big Picture” we have lost sight of what is important to God – individual people.

God forgive us for our failure to value the people you have called us, your servants, to lead.

Learning to value people the way God does

Dr. Val

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Confessions of a Reformed Idolater

Hi my name is Val and I’m an idolater.

Yes, I admit that I have problems with idol worship. No not the "American Idol" kind but the worst kind of idolatry, self worship!

God gave us very specific instructions about who or what we are to worship. An idol is anything that is a substitute for God. He will accept no rivals for His position in our lives, whether from false religions or from otherwise good things, such as family, money, or fame, which may usurp his preeminent place in our devotion.

But I find that I am narcissistic at my core. It’s all about me and often I replace God as the center of my worship and life. In fact a friend of mine at IWS and I were discussing the new trinity that often usurps God in our lives. Oh, you want to know the new trinity? Me, Myself & I

Unlike believers during Biblical times, we American believers no longer make physical idols (unless you count your house, cottage, sports car, boat, snowmobile, etc.). I tend to make idols out of my job, my people, my things, and especially ME.

Exodus 20:2-6 (NIV) says:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before (or “beside”)  me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

There are a couple of thoughts about this passage that I find significant. First, the word “you” in verse 3 is singular so it means individually you or me. Second the passage says if you want to be connected with the Numinous you can’t bring other things or persons with you into the Presence. You must come alone and empty handed.

You see, this isn’t saying that we don’t love other things – such as our spouse… kids… friends… jobs… our hobbies, or even that we love them any less. But rather, Scripture is saying that we love all these other things… through the lens of our relationship with the living God!In other words, we let our relationship with God… influence everything else that we do. That’s #1!You shall have no other gods before me!

God please forgive me for the times that I’ve put my way and me first. May Your will and Your way be done on earth (especially in my heart and life) as it is in heaven!

Amen and amen

Dr. Val