A Caricatured Gospel

October 6, 2012 — Leave a comment

ImageA CARICATURE is a picture, description, or imitation of a person or thing in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.  We often see this in political cartoons – with President Obama’s ears/toothy smile or Bill Clinton’s nose and chin.

While we may grin and recognize who the caricature is of, it certainly is nowhere near a legitimate representation of the person’s likeness.  Spiritual movements do the same thing, not when for a season we draw attention to a particular truth that the Holy Spirit is bringing an emphasis upon, but when spiritual leaders audaciously declare that this truth isn’t just the latest trend, but it IS the GOSPEL!

In my short 51 years, I’ve seen it happen with the messages of healing, Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts (full gospel)  faith, prayer, authority/submission, prosperity to name a few.  All of these are Biblically-solid ideas that needed emphasis and were each being illuminated by the Holy Spirit to bring some balance for the purpose of maturity to the body of Christ.  I believe and preach every one of those truths.  Unfortunately, a spiritual emphasis became a whole camp that declared it had a “corner” on the truth.  Every one of these became a caricature that so overemphasized one particular component of the Gospel image that it became a distortion and did injustice to other underemphasized “parts.”

For example, take the recent phenomenon of the “prosperity Gospel.”  It pulls all the great verses of the Bible that do promise God’s favor and abundance in benefits and blessings and equates material prosperity with spirituality  – all the while ignoring all the “key passages” of Scripture that the camp on the opposite end of the spectrum uses to support the idea that “poverty is spiritual.”  After all, we should lay up treasure (not on earth, but) in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt!”

I shouldn’t have to even say it – but here we go again.  I recently heard the phrase – “this isn’t just another spiritual trend or wind and wave of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) but it is the Gospel!  It came out of the mouth of a leader preaching the FINISHED WORK of CHRIST as it relates to the message of GRACE.  The same pattern that has happened over and over and over and over again is going on here.  Don’t get me wrong!  The FINISHED WORK of CHRIST is critical to our understanding as NEW CREATION believers.  But when it is preached to the point that it de-emphasizes the FINISHING WORK of the HOLY SPIRIT, it is out of balance.  GRACE is huge.  It is paramount.  But when it is extruded from its Biblical and covenantal relationship to the LAW of God in the life of the unregenerate sinner and the regenerated believer, then it has become a caricature, an exaggerated grotesque misrepresentation.

Just like true Biblical prosperity doesn’t identify with gross consumerist American materialism, Biblical GRACE doesn’t hate the good and holy LAW of God.  People who are honest and acknowledge that there are still “things” in their lives that aren’t “DONE YET” will do one of 2 things with this out of balance, caricature of GRACE:  they will become frustrated with the obvious difference in the message they’re hearing and what they obviously see as still yet “undone” or they’ll just learn to live in denial.  And one more time, the body of Christ has been tossed to and fro by another “wind and wave of doctrine.”  Selah!

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Proverbs 29:18 – KJV)

I’ve always thought it interesting that no one quotes or pays any attention to the latter part of this major vision verse.  Obviously, vision here isn’t some big concocted dream work, but it’s a living connection to the Father through an “open heaven” where the spirit of revelation is accompanied by a spirit of obedience to God’s revealed law-word.  Here are a couple more translations for clarity’s sake.

“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law.” (ESV)

“Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint;
but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.” (NIV)

“When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. 
 But whoever obeys the law is joyful.” (NLT)

This verse has been hi-jacked by the human potential movement and had the power of positive thinking spin put on it, when it obviously has more to do with understanding the revealed will of God and walking in the joy of obedience to it instead of one of the seven steps to “your best life now.”

One of my favorites:

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” — T.E. Lawrence

Don’t just be a dreamer – but be a doer!

“A vision without a strategy is a fantasy!”

Think big – start small!

Dream big and make plans!

Think globally – act locally!

“Don’t export something you can’t import!  ~ a minister’s wife

Created Equal?

August 8, 2012 — Leave a comment

“All men are created equal?” Seriously, for all the running this “equality” flag up the pole, let’s stop and remember that there are hordes of people who were born into abject poverty while others are born into extreme riches. Do these two groups have “equal” chances in life? Others have innate athletic skills or gifts of intelligence above the rest; still others are mechanical, builders, dreamers, inventors. I was standing behind the door when those skills were distributed. Some have amazing people skills, networking and drawing divergent groups together. Examples of the differences that make us NOT the same could be multiplied. Obviously, we are not “equal” in this sense. What we start with isn’t the same. What we end with isn’t the same. We aren’t guaranteed “equal” amounts of time on the planet. The only way that we are “equal” is that we are all image-bearers. We are stamped with the “imago dei” – the image of God. Even though it’s broken from sin and yes we are all “equally” born in sin, let’s remember that every man and every woman deserves to be “equally” treated with dignity and respect.Image

The Message Bible says that we enter God’s presence with the password: “Thank You!” Make yourselves at home, talking praise. Thank him. Worship him.

Psalm 100:4

I can’t stop thanking God for all these things:

* All of the people who showed up in SERVE shirts to make our 2011 VBS
“Big Apple Adventure” be our best VBS ever.

* 29 children gave their hearts to Jesus at VBS this year. Get ’em when they’re young.
These lives will be very different because of the work of God in them this week. It’s
a lot easier to “build into children” than it is to “renovate and repair broken adults.”
While we are committed to doing both at Victory, our emphasis and energy is always
on the Next Generation!

* Pastor Haley – what an amazing leader God has put over our children’s ministry.

* Our staff – everyone jumped in and put in extra hours and served to help this VBS
be the great event it was. God has really given us a Dream Team here at Victory.
Thank you Jesus!

* The fresh flow of God’s presence in our worship! Thanks folks for not coming only
to receive but being ready to give God what is His due – the glory of His name!
Several have remarked how it’s been the best ever! Praise God!

* The great Word from Pastor Alex this month. Don’t forget to read 1 Peter 5 before
Sunday.

* The crazy “wall-to-wall” crowd in our 2nd service. I love that level of energy
and excitement about Jesus.

* The Victory Kids’ dance moves with their “Big Apple Adventure” song Sunday
morning! Awesome!

* Tell somebody what God is doing. Invite them and come expecting.

* If you keep your ever-changing prophecy chart on a dry erase board . . . you might be a dispensationalist.

 

* If you interpret the Bible literally EXCEPT when your prophecy interpretation won’t allow it . . . you might be a dispensationalist.

 

*If you see the Old Covenant as all LAW and the New Covenant as all GRACE . . . you might be a dispensationalist.

 

*If you’re more pre-occupied with WHEN Jesus is coming instead of “occupying till He comes”. . . you might be a dispensationalist.

 

* If you’re convinced that Jesus is coming “any minute” but aren’t living that belief by trying to share the gospel with everyone possible . . .you might be a dispensationalist.

 

* If you’ve sold everything you own for a set RAPTURE date . . . you might be a dispensationalist.

 

* If your eschatology is more driven by the newspaper than the Bible . . . you might be a dispensationalist.

 

*If you think those who have differing “end times” views are heretics . . . you might be a dispensationalist.

 

* If you can name more past potential AntiChrist candidates than you can Old Testament prophets. . .you might be a dispensationalist.

 

*If you’re certain of who the AntiChrist is this time . . . you might be a dispensationalist.

 

And lastly . . .

 

* If you think any efforts to advance the Kingdom of God and bring cultural transformation are “polishing the brass on a sinking ship” . . . well, let’s face it, you are a dispensationalist.

 

DISCLAIMER:  One’s belief about the “end-times” (eschatology) is a not an essential of the faith because how I believe in this area does NOT affect my salvation.  However, what I believe about the future certainly does affect HOW I LIVE in the here and now.  One’s hermeneutic (means of interpretation) is like a set of glasses through which we view all of scripture  – obviously, affecting the way I see everything from soteriology to eschatology and everything in between.  Since it is a “non-essential” of the faith, it is NOT a “litmus test” for fellowship with me.  Why . . . some of my best friends are dispensationalists.  OK, bad joke.  Anyway, the tongue-in-cheek humor here is intended to show of the eschatological extremes that have sprung from the dispensationalist’s well.  By the way, I cut the content down here after the word count was “666.”  ; )

 

Paul includes a section in all of his letters to the churches where he says, “I thank God for . . .” I’m certainly not Paul, but I do have a truckload of blessings for which I am thankful!

1) A restful week at the Gulf Coast. I got up early to sit on the balcony of the
condo, read my Bible and drink coffee while hearing the sound of waves
crashing and looking out over the beach. Dawn and I, Abbey and a friend
enjoyed the sun, sand, and pool along with some great food that we cooked
ourselves and ate at a couple restaurants. We enjoyed amazing weather all
week. I think it rained for about an hour 1 day. So many of my favorite things
are in those few sentences. God’s willingness to give us our hearts desires
always blows me away.

2) The voice of the Lord. I’m thankful for ears to hear. Time in His Word was
rich. Uninterrupted talks with Dawn always blesses me – the woman has a
direct line to heaven. I also read a couple books that greatly impacted me.
Mark Batterson’s “Soul Print” on identity in Christ and Andy Stanley’s “The
Principle of the Path” on direction and life decisions are both fantastic books
that would strengthen anyone’s walk with God.

3) The Victory Vision that just grew and expanded in my heart over this
time of personal rest and reflection. Great things are ahead!

4) Nothing blesses a pastor’s heart more than to know he can leave the church
confidently in the hands of capable people and that there will be a church
there when he gets back. I know you hear me brag on our staff – but listen
folks, they really are a “Dream Team!” Pastor Alex is doing a great job
this month in his series on 1 Peter called “Simon Says . . .”

4) Our praise team. We were absent several front line musicians and those
guys pulled in some others who worked hard to put it together and did a
phenomenal job with the worship, both Sundays. It blessed me to be able to
stand beside my wife on the front row Sunday and just worship with the
saints.

5) The growing “servant spirit” in Victory Church. We had a ‘serve deficit’ for our
upcoming VBS, and you stepped forward to carry the ball down the field with
this vision of Pastor Haley’s for our children both in Victory and the
community. It’s going to impact young lives eternally!

6) Everyone who commits to a task and actually follows through. The culture
of this generation is long on “I will” and short on “I did.” People commit to
things sometimes too quickly and then don’t actually show up to do what
they said they’d do. I just want to give a hand (cue applause) to all the
“Doers” we have in Victory. You put on your SERVE shirt and show up
when you don’t feel like it sometimes and smile anyway and do all the things
that make our services and ministries come off without a hitch. Thank you!
Thank you! Thank you! May your tribe only increase.

7) For the love of God that is growing among the people of Victory. We have
something very special here folks. Guard it! There is an atmosphere of
grace in this place. True spiritual family is built on the incarnational principles
of trust and love. We’re regularly seeing new converts come with all the
problems that people have and they’re feeling the love and acceptance and
receiving the necessary grace for God to do a transformational work in their
hearts and lives. Thank you Jesus and thank you people of Victory for living
the message!

Giving Him all the Praise!

“7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV)

God often bestows a “gift” upon an ordinary, “broken” human in order to develop and prepare that man or woman for a life of purpose in His Kingdom. Dawn and I spent a few years in North Carolina in the 1980s working in the ministry of quite an enigmatic leader. Everything could be correctly described in superlative terms when it came to his talents. His gifts to grasp and understand the Scriptures were surpassed by few in his generation. It didn’t stop there. His ability to articulate those ideas through writing books, teaching seminars and preaching conferences were every bit as impressive as his intellectual capacity. Add to that a strong, solid, prophetic unction and everyone saw the powerhouse that this leader was in kicking the bricks of “man-centeredness” out of the spiritual foundations of American Christianity. The impetus of His ministry was Kingdom advancement through a “Christ-centered” Gospel. His influence has literally touched a multitude of nations around the world. I say that it will be a couple of generations before we really understand the reach of his legacy.

Having had the privilege of literally working more closely with him on a daily basis than anyone else in the 1980s, I saw not only the “giftedness” but got a complete picture of the “broken” human that God had graced with these amazing gifts. The strangeness of it all is that the level of brokenness required an unexaggerated description in superlative terms as well. The man who commanded the attention of vast conference crowds was one of the shyest and admittedly the most insecure men that I’ve ever met. The contrast between public ministry and private life was stunning. Hear me here – I’m not talking about “sin” issues. To my knowledge, my dear brother walked and demonstrated an example of holiness with his wife, children and business dealings that could be described in impeccable terms. His ability to move crowds was well known. His inability to relate to the individual “one-on-one” was also well known among the people of his local congregation. I saw people come and go in the 1980s in the midst of a growing church and ministry. Because I had the opportunity to see the “heart of the gifted/broken man” it gave me the ability to understand Him and love Him on a level that few others (the elders of the church) did.

Anytime something begins to experience rapid growth, people flock to it in order to identify with it, and sometimes to stake their claims and get their piece of the unfolding destiny that the future was to bring. The 80s saw a variety of people come and go – some with self-willed and rebellious attempts by those who desired to “do their thing” under the blessing of this man’s ministry. Others were sincere and were wounded by misunderstandings and poor leadership decisions – mistakes that every leader has made at one time or another. Understand that I’m throwing no stones here, nor am I uncovering anyone in this short article. The point requires a high level of honesty.

The fact of the matter is my dear brother was a very gifted teacher and writer. It took him all too long to discover that his giftings and personal make-up didn’t design him to “pastor” people. He has said this very thing out of his own mouth. Unfortunately, he came to grips with that 20 plus years after he’d planted his church. From all that I hear, that church is now under the direction of capable pastoral leadership and is beginning to flourish. I wish that local congregation God’s best as they take steps to define their local mission and identity apart from the shadow of the great man that founded it.

I want everyone to know that I dearly love this brother and His family. He went to be with the Lord a couple years ago this month. I write this short article today because I see a couple of extremes being represented in how people are remembering him. There are those who “demonize” him because of their personal experience of wounding either by their own doing or possibly by his personal leadership shortcomings due to his “broken” humanness. Then there are the “fans” who’ve only read the books and listened to the recorded messages who tend to “divinize” him.

I have no desire here to be unkind to either group except to say, both of these are completely skewed views of his leadership. If we focus on the giftedness and ignore the broken humanness of anyone, we’re guilty of man worship. However, if we focus on the brokenness of any leader’s humanity and don’t walk in grace and forgiveness and refuse to see the “hand of the Lord” upon him/her in giftings and purpose of God, we are guilty of demeaning the gifts and callings of God. I don’t want to be guilty of either. I love this brother. I’m thankful for all the amazing times of fellowship that we had – the friendships that were built that are still on-going. I was blessed to have him directly invest in my life. I learned things by both positive and negative example as all of us do in any station in life. Somehow, Dawn and I managed to leave there in late 1988 and plant the church where we are now in 1989 and look back on the almost 6 years in Richlands with fond memories and grateful hearts that God would let us really get to know one of his choice servants – a man who was amazingly gifted and deeply human at the same time. I thank God for him.