Growing in the Holy Spirit

August 20, 2018

One of the most memorable lines I heard this summer was from a friend who was sharing the story of his entrance into the Holy Spirit-filled life. He said, “I was brought up in church, but I was bored with God. Then one day I prayed… ‘God, if you are THIS “ALMIGHTY”, there has to be more to following you than this!’ And that’s when the Spirit broke into my life. I have never been the same.”

Are you dissatisfied with the depth and fullness of your Christian life? Do you have a feeling there must be MORE? Then you may be on the cusp of a breakthrough that will change your life forever. Some call it a “holy discontent”.

Entrance into the Spirit-filled Life always begins with a dissatisfaction with what the world is offering and a hunger for more of God.

JD Walt writes, “Ever since the exile from Eden that’s been the story. No matter how much we try to dress it up and make ourselves at home here, with nice cars and fancy restaurants, and highly edited Facebook lives, underneath it all is a fallen world. It often takes a stripping away of such accouterments to realize this. Sometimes fasting can help “prepare the way” for such a realization. The Spirit of God creates the conditions that make for the prerequisite path of holy discontent. No matter how “ok” things may appear to be, they are not ok. Great awakenings happen when people begin to respond to the Spirit’s movement to “make a straight path,” to do something different; to interrupt the patterns of so-called prosperity.” (Seedbed Daily Text)

I believe there is hunger and thirst for God growing among us. Great awakenings and great revivals start with individuals in communities who start praying, hungering, and turning to God together.

May our hunger pangs grow…

The Year in Review

June 14, 2018

Recently I was kicking back, like Chuck and Clydesdale in the picture above, reflecting on the last year at LLIV and I was just amazed.

About one month ago I was sitting with a young man who has been attending our church and we prayed together at breakfast. Now that might not sound like such a big deal but it was. You see, the day beforehand, this young man had called me and told me he was ready to accept Jesus into his heart. I don’t know if a breakfast could be any better!

I also was reminded that this year we celebrated at least 4 “FIRSTS”. Check this out…

In the fall we launched our first “OPEN HOUSES” for fellowship and fun. We had about 12 of them all told and they were great! Each was unique in the games we played, the food we shared, the locations and hosts/hostesses, and the people who attended. We undoubtedly grew closer together as a church and were able to fellowship with several people who normally do not attend LLIV.

In the spring we had our first ever “Parenting and Prayer” Workshop. We met for 5 weeks and, once again, welcomed several people outside of our church family to join us.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrated our first-ever wedding AND baptism!

On Memorial Day, we took our first-ever church trip to Knott’s Berry Farm.

Not bad for one year, wouldn’t you agree?

As we continued to have amazing services outside in the park, we have had to deal with some irritating bugs and the transition of our beloved Tom and Doris back to FMCSB. The finances at church remain tight, but it hasn’t squeezed the Holy Spirit out. He is as alive and active as ever.

God is good, church. God is good!

Acts 2:32-35

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’


Yesterday landed us in Acts 1 and the Ascension of Jesus. Today we come to Pentecost and the Church’s first sermon. Didn’t we say this series on prayer would begin with the Old Testament? Thanks for remembering.

The fascinating thing about today’s text is it contains the New Testament’s most quoted verse from the Old Testament. Psalm 110:1 appears at least six times in the New Testament…

The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Psalm 110:1

This gives us prayer’s agenda and final destination: until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.

These ten words form the agenda of “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” The  enemies of Jesus are Satan, evil, sin, death, and darkness, which show up in everything from oppression to opioid addiction, from cancer to child slavery, and from poverty to pornography.

To pray means to participate in the triumph—not of good over evil—but of Jesus over the Evil One. Somehow and in some mysterious way, God chooses to win the battle through the participation of our prayers.

Jesus primary vocation as he sits at the right hand of God is to pray. “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” Hebrews 7:25. In fact, Jesus’ primary vocation as he dwells among and within us is to pray. He prays without ceasing.

It would stand to reason that as we abide in him, we too pray without ceasing, and this not primarily because we are praying but because he is praying. Discipleship to Jesus means learning to pray in agreement with Jesus, in union with the mind of Christ. This does not come to us naturally. It must come supernaturally.

“Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

Prayer means many things to many people. Biblically speaking, prayer means war. Prayer means advance. Prayer means recovering what has been lost and taking back what has been stolen. Remember back in Ephesians how Paul closed his teaching on warfare in the Spirit? And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people—Ephesians 6:18.

As I write this, I am leaned back in a leather chair with my feet propped up on a footstool. I’m thinking about Satan and evil and sin and darkness as that footstool. This is the vision. The way is made by the prayers of Jesus. The way is made by our participation with Jesus in that work. Wouldn’t that be a welcome shift—from my prayer life to the prayer life of Jesus? That’s where all this is heading.


Lord Jesus, you are right here, right now. And you will win the battle. I am sorry for always beckoning you to my side. I sense you saying it is time for me to come to your side. Show me the way beyond my own thin agenda that I might enter into your prayer life and step into the real battle where all you do is win. Right here, Jesus. Right now Jesus. Amen.


What if we’ve missed the point of prayer. What if most of what we have learned about prayer is more shaped by culturally transmitted folk religion than the revealed Word of God?

What is the significance of Psalm 110:1 and why do you think it appears so much in the New Testament?

Is your prayer life lagging? What might it mean to join the prayer life of Jesus?

The pursuit of Christian greatness is an art, not a science.  While there are clear commands in Scripture that the way up is the way down, pursuing Christian greatness (aka humility) does not preclude discipline, passion, hard work, and focused effort.  This often confuses people who would equate those disciplines with self-seeking ambition.  I confess they confused me at times.  Those lines have been blurred in my heart’s motives more than once, which is why the pursuit of Christian greatness could be called an art—something requiring a sensitive touch.

Let’s start with what we learn from the Master, Jesus.

In Matthew 11:29, Jesus exhorts followers to “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart”.

“When he (Jesus) had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” -John 13:12-17

“When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” -Matthew 20:24-28

In Andrew Murray’s classic, Humility, he writes, “How little this is preached. How little it is practiced. How little the lack of it is felt or confessed. I do not say, how few attain to it, some recognizable measure of likeness to Jesus in His humility. But how few ever think of making it a distinct object of continual desire or prayer. How little the world has seen it. How little has it been seen, even in the inner circle of the Church.

“Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Would God that it might be given us to believe that Jesus means this! We all know what the character of a faithful servant or slave implies—Devotion to the master’s interests, thoughtful study and care to please him, delight in his prosperity and honor and happiness.

Jesus taught on humility extensively (Matthew 5:1-12; 18:1-3; Luke 9:46-48; Luke 14:7-11, etc.) and modeled humility to the end of his obedient life.  And His disciples eventually understood it.  They were able to claim themselves as “bondservants” and “slaves” of Christ and to exhort followers to have the same mind in themselves (Philippians 2:5-12).

But how quickly they (and we) forget!  After the revelation of Christ’s humility and our call to imitate it, we go right back to arguing about who is “greater”.  The required sensitive touch I mentioned above is required of us as we examine ourselves.  Let us use exacting and sensitive skill in assessing the condition of our hearts.  And always, always, always, seek to take the position of a humble servant.

To draw from Andrew Murray, the question we must then ask ourselves is whether we wish to please our master with outstanding devotion to his interests?

If your answer is yes, then here’s part 2.

One writer named Jimmy Page (not the guitarist for Led Zeppelin) believes that devotion equals the sum of focus, passion, and action.

In our devotion, let us stay focused with our Master Jesus always before us providing direction. 

Our love for Jesus fuels our passion to serve Him.  We have motivation to rise each day and energy to love others as ourselves.  We know that God opens every door, and if we are faithful in small things, He will grant us management of big things.  The possibilities of Christian service are global, dynamic, and miraculous. 

And we always take action.  Our service to Jesus is not passive.  It is always moving forward.  We give thoughtful care to please the master in ways that honor him and delight him.  We do not bury our gifts in the sand, but move, assess, respond, correct, improve, and move forward again.

Greatness (aka Humility) and focused, disciplined, energetic hard work are not mutually exclusive ideals.

Let’s conclude with Andrew Murray… “We have seen humility in the life of Christ, as He laid open His heart to us: let us listen to His teaching. There we shall hear how He speaks of it, and how far He expects men, and specially His disciples, to be humble as He was. Let us carefully study the passages, which I can scarce do more than quote, to receive the full impression of how often and how earnestly He taught it: it may help us to realize what He asks of us.”

Who is This? The Deliverer!

January 30, 2018

21 Jesus and his companions went to the town of Capernaum. When the Sabbath day came, he went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike the teachers of religious law.
23 Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 But Jesus reprimanded him. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered. 26 At that, the evil spirit screamed, threw the man into a convulsion, and then came out of him.
27 Amazement gripped the audience, and they began to discuss what had happened. “What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” 28 The news about Jesus spread quickly throughout the entire region of Galilee.

Authoritative teaching brings out the evil spirits here. Who is this? The Deliverer!

This was an overt confrontation. But what about us? What are some of the evil spirits we deal with?

Truth is, in our culture, for better or for worse, we do not see overt manifestations of demons like this very often. But that doesn’t mean we are without our problems. The single biggest problem we have which opposes the authority and presence of Jesus is RIGHT HERE! It’s Self!

AW Tozer writes of this challenge to each of us and he compares it to a veil. A covering. Something blocking the unhindered flow of the Holy Spirit in our lives to transform us.

Where does he get that idea? From the Bible…

2 Corinthians 3:13 We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. 14 But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. 15 Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand.
16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

Do you recall what happened when the Jews saw Moses after he was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and night receiving the 10 Commandments? His face was GLOWING with the Glory of God! It was awesome. But what did the people ask him to do? Cover it up! They didn’t want that much glory. It disturbed them.

It was the same way when the mountain was quaking with fire and smoke. They said to Moses, you go up there. We don’t want to go up there or we will die. You go to God for us.

You see, we like our safe distances away from God. We have more control that way.

The idea of the veil in 2 Corinthians 3 was referring specifically to Jews and their religious heritage, but Tozer sees an application to all of us, Gentiles included, who hold onto a veil that keeps us arms distance away from God. It must be removed.

“What is it? What but the presence of a veil in our hearts? A veil not taken away as the first veil was, but which remains there still shutting out the light and hiding the face of God from us. It is the veil of our fleshly, fallen nature living on, unjudged within us, uncrucified and unrepudiated. It is the close-woven veil of the self-life which we have never truly acknowledged, of which we have been secretly ashamed, and which for these reasons we have never brought to the judgement of the cross…an enemy to our lives and an effective block to our spiritual progress.” (The Pursuit of God, Tozer 42)

“The threads of this veil are not something we do, they are something we are, and therein lies both their subtle and their power…self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them.” (Tozer 42)

Self can live (very long) unrebuked at the very altar. Religious people can exist for a looooong time without removing that veil.

One of the greatest passages in the Bible that describes what we are getting at is in a conversation between Jesus and his leading disciple, Peter.

21 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.
22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?

“We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us. We must bring our self-sins to the cross for judgment. We must prepare ourselves for an ordeal of suffering in some measure like that through which our Savior passed when He suffered under Pontius Pilate.” (Tozer 43)

“It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free.” (Tozer 43)

We have known too many church-going Christians who are NOT FREE. Ego, Fears, Absorbed with Self, Pride.

God wants us free. He will do the work, but we have to “take up our cross”. We have to be willing to lose our lives. This is an invitation to pain.

There is a word of caution here. Many religious leaders who are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing, charlatans, understand this principle. It is within us. Innately, we understand that like Jesus, our journey leads to a cross. We know deep down that is where the victory lies and so we are open to this conversation and then a wolf comes in and says give it to me, along with your money or your body, or whatever. (Tozer 44)

This has to be the work of God. People must only facilitate and encourage the work in others, not interfere with it.

“Let us beware of tinkering with our inner life, hoping ourselves to rend the veil. God must do everything for us. Our part is to yield and trust. We must confess, forsake, repudiated the self-life, and then reckon it crucified. But we must be careful to distinguish lazy “acceptance” from the real work of God. We must insist upon the work being done. We dare not rest content with a neat doctrine of self-crucifixion. That is to imitate Saul and spare the best of the sheep and the oxen.” (Tozer 44)

“Insist that the work be done in very truth and it will be done. The cross is rough and it is deadly, but it is effective. It does not keep its victim hanging there forever. There comes a moment when its work is finished and the suffering victim dies. After that is resurrection glory and power, and the pain is forgotten for joy that the veil is taken away and we have entered in actual spiritual experience the presence of the living God.” (Tozer 44)

Let’s pray that we enter into that work.

I pray that you might have a “Cone of Silence” (from Get Smart) experience with God today. Where God and you can communicate together without interruption or interference and He can reveal to your heart where you might have a VEIL that needs to be removed.

Let’s pray…

Advent is the first month of the Christian calendar and the season we have entered. I confessed recently at church that I was unprepared for Advent and its cultural trappings…lights, decorations, Christmas cards, gifts, gatherings. In fact, I was loathing it! But, thankfully, I am neither unprepared for or unwelcoming of this season of Christ’s “coming”. I desire it very much. It’s the other stuff I wanted to jettison.

So what should we be mindful of in this season? Of Advent, and its precursor, fall?

You might need the reminder, as I did, that as children of God our seasons are filled with divine purpose, especially when the outlook is bleak. Tracey and I have come to expect that every fall we will navigate the doldrums. Perhaps it is my internal clock, or spiritual warfare surrounding Halloween, or the nature of fall itself, but my doldrums ALWAYS happen in the fall, never in spring. They can either defeat me in 100 different ways or I can embrace them for lessons they teach.

Parker Palmer writes,
“Autumn is a season of great beauty, but it is also a season of decline: the days grow shorter, the light is suffused, and summer’s abundance decays toward winter’s death. Faced with this inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn? It scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring—and scatters them with amazing abandon…

“In my own experience of autumn, I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted. Instead, my mind is on the fact that the green growth of summer is browning and beginning to die. my delight in the autumn colors is always tinged with melancholy, a sense of impending loss that is only heightened by the beauty all around. I am drawn down by the prospect of death more than I am lifted by the hope of new life…

“But as I explore autumn’s paradox of dying and seeding, I feel the power of metaphor. In the autumnal events of my own experience, I am easily fitted on surface appearances—on the decline of meaning, the decay of relationships, the death of a work. And yet if I look more deeply, I may see the myriad possibilities being planted to bear fruit in some season yet to come…

“In retrospect, I can see in my own life what I could not see at the time—how the job I lost helped me find work I needed to do, how the ‘road closed’ signed turned me toward terrain I needed to travel, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to discern meanings I needed to know. On the surface, it seemed that life was lessening, but silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sown…

“This hopeful notion that living is hidden with dying is surely enhanced by the visual glories of autumn. What artist would ever have painted a season of dying with such a vivid palette if nature had not done it first? Does death possess a beauty that we—who fear death, who find it ugly and obscene—cannot see? How shall we understand autumn’s testimony that death and elegance go hand in hand?

“Autumn constantly reminds me that my daily dyings are necessary precursors to new life. If I try to ‘make’ a life that defies the diminishments of autumn, the life I end up with will be artificial, at best, and utterly colorless as well. But when I yield to the endless interplay of living and dying, dying and living, the life I am given will be real and colorful, fruitful and whole.” (Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, p. 79)

Can you recognize “living hidden with dying”? The “falls” that bring you to Advent?  And embrace them as necessary? I am learning that my fall doldrums are the natural progression of life’s seasons. We all must go through the fall to harvest the fruits of spring. The more we fix our eyes on Jesus and embrace the pain, disappointments, failures, closures, etc. with faith in God’s purpose and plan, the more lasting the spiritual fruits will be. So live into this season and look ahead.

Jesus is coming.

Soon after his baptism, Jesus entered the synagogue in Nazareth and read these words from Isaiah…
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed; (Luke 4:18)

Are you aware that this is what you were baptized for as well? When you were baptized, you were filled with the Spirit of God for what reason? To impress people? To have the respect and admiration of your peers? To please a parent, spouse, or friend?

The Spirit of the Lord is upon you and me for preaching Good News, works of reconciliation, mercy, deliverance, justice, and healing. This is what we were baptized for.

Recent events inspire me to emphasize two of these areas: racial reconciliation (“setting at liberty those who are oppressed”) and healing (“recovery of sight”).

In the last few years it has seemed we are returning to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. With murders, police brutality, demonstrations, and clashes between racially distinct groups from Ferguson to Charlottesville, and many places in between, we have seen how far we are from reconciling the races in America.

I finished watching I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin yesterday (on Amazon). It is a movie with scenes from movies and interviews, stark photographs, and articulate commentary. And it is quite painful to watch. Overall it is outstanding and I highly encourage everyone to view it.

Two scenes haunt me. One is of Dorothy Counts, age 15 from Charlotte, N.C., who is walking to school surrounded by a mob of adults and children, as school integration is happening. She is spat on, insulted, mocked, and she is alone. Tall and lanky, she looks like she could be my daughter.

And then there is a scene from the movie, Imitation of Life when a black woman whose daughter passes for white comes to the school during a storm to collect her daughter. She goes into the classroom and the teacher greets her at the door. “I am here to get my daughter”. “I am sorry but we have no black children in this classroom”. The daughter is ashamed of her black mother and puts a book up to hide her face from her. Then the mother sees her. “No. There she is.” And the little girl stands up and all the children start whispering…”I didn’t know she was black. I didn’t know she was black. She’s black?!?” She gets past her mother and then runs away crying and shouting at her, “I hate you I hate you I hate you!”

One of these portrays was an actual event. One was fictionalized from all-too-true reality in white-dominated society. James Baldwin asks rhetorically when reflecting on our history, “Where are the Christians?” It is pointed out that Sunday at 11:00 remains the most segregated hour of the week!

My friends, we have to lead the way in racial reconciliation. This is what we were baptized for.

Then on the healing side. I must confess that I am tired of those questions pastors get…”how is your church?” meaning, “How big is it? How many staff? How big a budget? How many churches have you planted?” Be careful how you answer because you will be graded, judged, and pigeon-holed accordingly.

I got here and my pastor/brother/friend Dr. Dan Sandoval asked me, “What is the spiritual climate in Santa Barbara right now?”

I love that question! I told him that the spiritual climate was very promising. Revival and renewal have been prophesied over the city for years now and I believe it is coming! But there are also challenges.

There is the reality of three pastors with three sad stories weighing us down in our city right now. One pastor was removed from his position for a moral failure and has moved out of the state. Another pastor was hurt by trusted friends and is in need of healing. The third pastor is avoiding confrontation and is allowing his worship pastor and youth minister to walk in sin because the numbers are up.

I believe these very different, but common tragedies could all be avoided by good accountability and healthy networking of pastors and churches outside their own bubble. We have to have humility and courage to ask and answer honestly such questions as “How is your soul? In what areas do you need encouragement right now? What, if anything, is hindering you from living more fully to God?” These are an example of what can bring healing and recovery to those broken, hurting, confused, and blind.

Now I am all about 3000 getting saved in one day, as Acts 2 reports. That is one of the things that will happen when believers are filled with the Spirit of God!

Keep in mind, however, that it is more than numbers alone, but also about reconciling those oppressed, brokenhearted, and ostracized for the color of their skin or their country of origin. It is about justice for the poor, recovery of sight for the blind, and deliverance for the captives. This is what you were baptized for.

The Encouraging Community

August 15, 2017

I want to tell you the story of a parent and a child. The parent was a committed parent who loved his child. The child was a kind-hearted, good child. One morning said parent awoke at his normal time and made preparations for the day. This included awakening the child, reminding him of his morning duties, preparing his breakfast and a sack lunch for the day.

The child, who is a teenager, remained asleep after the first, second, and third exhortations to wake up. When the child finally did awake, his breakfast was uneaten and the parent, whose patience was wearing thin, lost his cool.

“What have you been doing?!?! Sit down and eat your breakfast! We have to leave in 10 minutes!”

The child’s response?
“It’s not my fault. You didn’t tell me to come to the table!”

Now, in this story, at whose feet would you place the blame/responsibility for this mishap? Well, I believe it falls at the feet of the parent (who, of course, is me). The parent is doing too much for the child. The child is not learning the responsibilities he needs to learn. Simply put, he is getting spoiled.

Now with this in mind, I want to ask you to imagine the community of the church and the responsibilities we should ask for and expect of its members. Should there be any? If so, what should we ask/expect of each other?

Transformation into Christlikeness is the aim and responsibility of the church. We believe that this does not happen in a vacuum. There are no “Lone Ranger” Christians. We are called to be in relationship with one another. Romans 12:5 says, “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

The church is to be the “encouraging community” to this end. It is a primary, essential function of the church. Perhaps THE essential function.

But beware! Forces are aligned to keep us from this development! James Bryan Smith believes that our consumer culture is one of them. The culture does not help foster this encouraging Christian community that calls one another to maturity and responsibility. He writes,

“We live in a consumer culture. Each day we are treated as a customer, and this leads us to believe we are entitled to have all of our needs met. We have become spoiled. The modern ethos of narcissism is pervasive in our culture and prevalent in our churches. The phenomenon of ‘church shopping’ reveals our comfort with the consumer narrative. It is also revealed when we are treated as something other than consumers.
Several years ago I was speaking with a group of pastors about this false narrative, and one of them had a story that illustrates this. ‘A years ago I felt called by God to encourage our people to read the Bible more,’ he said. ‘I challenged them, from the pulpit, to read the Bible for an hour a week. Not all at once, but perhaps for ten to twenty minutes on different occasions. After offering this challenge on several Sundays, a woman who had been in the church for several years came up to me and said, ‘Pastor, I want you to know that I am leaving the church.’ I asked why, and she said, ‘Because when I joined this church, reading the Bible was not in the contract.’” (Smith. The Good and Beautiful Community, p. 128)

It should be obvious that this is unacceptable. The encouraging community that we are called to be is filled with an eternal purpose—to become Christlike people who are constantly growing in our life with God and each other. The encouraging community that we are to be exists to shape and guide our souls. It will provide encouragement and accountability, and has the right to expect certain behaviors from each other.

This fall we will be moving into a new era in the life of our church congregation. We will be incorporating small groups into the life of our congregation. These will meet weekly. Each member is expected to join a small group. The purpose of these groups will be encouragement, accountability, prayer, spiritual gift identification and engagement, fellowship and fun.

Let’s fulfill our purpose, church, and become mature, responsible, holy Christians.

The Essentials

July 19, 2017

This morning my wife was describing “essential oils” to me. Many bath and body products now use “essential oils”. They are the oils distilled or pressed from plants that serve in medicines, lotions, incense, etc. They are highly concentrated, fragrant, and potent in what they do. Hence “essential”.

Tracey then showed me some essential oils and I saw that they come in tiny bottles and vials. It literally only takes a drop of something like Eucalyptus oil to fill the room with its fragrance.

I also learned that many products have to use other carrier oils along with the essential oils to serve as filler. They are the non-essential oils. It’s the fluff that combines with the essential oils so the product can be put in a more substantial bottle or tube.

And that got me thinking about church.

How much of the western version of church is not essential? Lots! It’s almost like McDonald’s packaging. How much money do they spend on packaging the value meal? It’s got to be a ton, right?!?!

We need to make it our business to be about the essentials, such as love, obedience, service, faithfulness, holiness, and the Word of God.

Leave the fog machines and disco balls to others with the bigger, more colorful packaging.

We’ll stick to the essentials.

Luke 7:47 “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love”

The most difficult time of my life was also the most stretching/maturing/developing time of my life. It was when I was part of an unhealthy, independent church in L.A. called True Worship Christian Fellowship.

The church was so named because they (I should say “we” because I was part of it) believed they were true worshippers whereas others were not. Talk about pride and presumption!

But do you know that now there are over 30,000 Protestant denominations in the world? In America, especially, we are masters of breaking free of yokes (oppressive or otherwise) and making our own way. It’s in the fabric of our history and founding.

So, when we find fault or find ourselves in disagreements with others, we choose isolation, judgment, suspicion, and condemnation of those we disagree with. It is so much easier than talking it through, listening well, and extending grace. This tendency of ours is seen in churches, politics, and race relations. It is why Sunday mornings are still the most segregated hours of the week.

So as my soul languished in many ways at this church, a few important things developed anyhow. One was an understanding of what NOT to do as a pastor and church leader. The other was to grow, often painfully, in my knowledge and understanding of African-American culture. It paved the way to meet and marry Tracey Bucker in 17 years ago.

Much good can come of increasing our understanding of other races and cultures. For example, when was the last time you read a book by an author of the opposing political party? And tried to listen to the message without throwing the book down in disgust at the very sentence you disagreed with?

These are very helpful practices, but one practice helps more than any other…the practice of forgiveness.

When we understand the depth of our own forgiveness, we can love like the woman with the alabaster jar—Mary Magdalene—who “loved much because she was forgiven much”. It changes everything! I don’t need to fear other races or political parties or the future or _____ because “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).

This is not a small task. It’s a huge one. But one possible to achieve in many ways. And we are especially poised to realize this at Light and Life Isla Vista because we are cognizant of our sin and need. Remember that song, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, by the Temptations? It’s much preferable to be a Mary Magdalene than a Pharisee. Can I get an Amen?

Our human nature dictates that if people look or act or believe differently than we do, we get uncomfortable and fearful because we can’t control them or their behavior or the outcomes. So how do we overcome this? Stanley Hauerwas (a professor at Duke) says, “This love that is characteristic of God’s kingdom is possible only for a forgiven people—a people who have learned not to fear one another…Only when my self—my character—has been formed by God’s love, do I know I have no reason to fear the other.”

None of our doctrines and definitions are flawlessly perfect. We see through a glass dimly. But if your heart declares Jesus is Lord, then we can walk together in fellowship! And the world needs to see that in us, now more than ever.