Featured post

A Year of Restoration

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord shines over you. For look, darkness will cover the earth, and total darkness the peoples; but the Lordwill shine over you, and his glory will appear over you.” (Isaiah 60:1–2, CSB)

What I believe I’ve received from the Lord I hereby affirm and declare: 2020 is our year Lifewell Church!

It will be a year when we will live out our original creed to be the city set on a hill, shining God’s light for everyone to see. The world may get darker; the news will be bad, politics more divisive and hate filled. We will become brighter. I will proclaim, and Lifewell will share, radically positive news, the Good News of Jesus, which saves from death, heals from sickness and disease, and delivers from demonically inspired irrational insanity.

The word for 2020 is: Restore.

For 20 years I’ve worked continually and received promises for phenomenal growth, and although we’ve seen periodic growth, none of it has been overwhelming. And in the past it was accompanied by struggle, then more growth, followed by lean years and leaders who left. Where was our faith, people of God? Where was our receptivity to the Holy Spirit’s anointing and urging? Where was my positive faith? “Forget the former things. Do not dwell on the past. Behold, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19) Perhaps you’ve heard that at the beginning of numerous years. You’ve heard me or another preacher quote it in hope. Do you believe. I do. I do.

Let us repent of our sin and unbelief. Clear away the obstacle that stand in the way of people receiving the positive message of God’s love. My sin has been complaining and frustration, turning to comfort rather than the Comforter, not believing that God loves me fully and personally. Yes, I’ve always believed “God so loved the world,” but only recently have I fully embraced his individual attention and love toward me, his mercy in spite of my sin, his grace in permitting me the privilege of ministering all these years. Where do you need to change? What do you need to confess to the Lord. What are you holding onto that is little more than a surrogate, a substitute for the real thing that your loving Heavenly Father will give. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of his benefits… who fills all your desires with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1 & 5).

I’ve received promises for restoration of what I’ve lost. Lost love. Lost friends. Lost family. Lost years. I pass these on because they are not for me alone, but for the church I pastor, and for any believer whom the Lord will quicken to receive these words.

“Return to a stronghold, you prisoners who have hope; today I declare that I will restore double to you.” (Zechariah 9:12)

Make us rejoice for as many days as you have humbled us, for as many years as we have seen adversity. Let your work be seen by your servants, and your splendor by their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish for us the work of our hands— establish the work of our hands! (Psalm 90:15–17, CSB)

Children of Zion, rejoice and be glad in the Lord your God, because he gives you the autumn rain for your vindication. He sends showers for you, both autumn and spring rain as before. The threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with new wine and fresh oil. I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust ate, the young locust, the destroying locust, and the devouring locust— my great army that I sent against you. You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied. You will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. My people will never again be put to shame. You will know that I am present in Israel and that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other. My people will never again be put to shame.” (Joel 2:23–27, CSB)

For those of you with ears to hear. Are you paying attention? Do you receive. Don’t wait and see. Believe and see it now. No more financial struggles. No more anger and depression. No more loneliness. No more hopeless, purposeless, boring life. Jesus promised, “I have come to give a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10, NLT). Receive it if you are able. Repent if you are not!

For Lifewell Church this means no more empty seats. No more planning events that few attend. No more striving to get your attention. No more cajoling you to greet and love new people. No more complaining about limited growth. No more visitors who don’t return because people didn’t pay attention to them. Lost leaders have been replaced and more are being raised up! Lost years and lost money will be restored. I believe. It will be.

Featured post

History of Christmas

The word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038 (newadvent.org) The present calendar is predicated on Jesus birth being Dec. 25th and his circumcision/ presentation in the Temple 8 days later falling on January 1st, which begins the anno dominus. This lines up with the early celebration of Christmas on Dec. 25th.

Birth of Christ at first not celebrated.

“Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday” (newadvent.org)

Epiphany/Nativity

Then combined with Epiphany on January 6th, which is the celebration of the appearance or manifestation of Christ to the world at his baptism. Thus, January 6th was observed to be both Jesus’ baptism and birthday. “Epiphany… on the 6th of January… is mentioned by Clement of Alexandria (c. 155-220).” Later when the birth was changed to Dec. 25th, a special feast was added to Jan. 6th in celebration of the coming of the Three Kings (Magi) and a concurrent observance of gentile missions. (Schaff, History of the Christian Church)

Early mention of Jesus’ birth by Clement of Alexandria on May 20th. “The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt. About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I. 21) says that certain Egyptian theologians “over curiously” assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ’s birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus.” (newadvent.org)

December 25th

Earliest mention of December 25 is in the Philocalian calendar representing Roman practice of the year AD 336, which states “natus Christus in Betleem Judeae.” “…during the consulship of (Augustus) Cæsar and Paulus Our Lord Jesus Christ was born on the eighth before the calends of January (25 December), a Friday, the fourteenth day of the moon.” Cyril of Jerusalem wrote to Pope Julius I (337-352) and asked for an authoritative judgment based upon census documents brought from Jerusalem to Rome by Titus after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. Julius assigned Dec. 25th according to this correspondence, which may not be legitimate “At Rome, then, the Nativity was celebrated on 25 December before 354; in the East, at Constantinople, not before 379.” (newadvent.org )

Gregory Nazanzian (known for his defense of the two natures but single personhood of Christ) sought to initiate December 25th c. 379 or 380. This date could have been chosen to challenge the celebration of Natalis Solis Invicti or The Invincible Sun, (Oxford Dictionary of Christian Church) which was associated also with Mithra. That celebration was established by Emperor Domitian (reign AD 81-96) in the 90’s and affirmed by Trajan (reign AD 98-117). It reached the climax of popularity under Aurelian in 274 (newadvent.org).

It would seem that the church chose to celebrate the birth of Christ, who was prophesied to be “the Sun of Righteousness with Healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2) to prove to the world that Jesus is the Son of God who conquered death and is the true invincible Son. “But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eight before the calends of January [25 December] . . ., But they call it the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered’. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . . .? -Cyprian (4th century)

Additionally, there were other winter celebrations in Rome around this time: Saturnalia, Sigillaria, Junenalia, Brumalia. The traditions connected to these festivals continue to influence our celebration of Christmas today: giving of presents to children, Christmas trees, lighting of candles, and the many excesses we attribute to contemporary culture of consumerism are actually ancient and never detached from Christmas. “while it also betrays the origin of the many excesses in which the unbelieving world indulges at this season, in wanton perversion of the true Christmas mirth” (Schaff). This, in spite of the fact the the church sought to create a somber season of reflection and repentance during Advent.

March 25 

There is an early tradition that dates the birth of Christ from his Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel, which was celebrated on March 25. There is a tradition also, that Jesus was conceived and crucified on the same day (March 25).

Dec. 25th Western Rite.

“The day is celebrated in the Western Rite by three Masses, of the night (normally said at midnight), of the dawn, and of the day, which have been held to symbolize the threefold birth of Christ, eternally in the bosom of the Father, from the womb of the Virgin Mary, and mystically in the soul of the faithful.” (Ox Dict. Chr Chur)

The Day You Stopped Living

Do you know when you quit believing in me?

I remember the day you stopped living.

It’s dark now, but it was sunny that day

when you walked away.

You thought I held you back,

but only I held you close,

even while you kicked and screamed.

You believed you could set yourself free,

and so, finally, I let you go.

Prodigal.

Free thought fills a fevered mind:

Infected heart, swollen with self love.

Do you realize what you’ve become?

The walking dead.

Zombie.

But my body is true food,

and my blood is true drink,

my body that was broken,

and my blood poured out

for you.

I’m still here.

I still love you,

and even though you don’t believe

in me.

I believe

in you.

And I love you,

although you don’t live for me.

I died,

so you could really live.

Come home.

1/11 – 3/11

All right, I just finished a workout, drinking black coffee in the cafe at the gym. Cheated my way into the new year, now I’m motivated to make a change by my birthday in 60 days. I rolled into 2020 with more muscle mass, which was my goal for 2019, but I also have 5-7% more body fat than I want. So, it’s back to cutting down & getting lean. To motivate you and keep me accountable, here is my goal and the means I’ll achieve it.

At the beginning of 2020 I weighed in at 158lbs (I got as high as 161). That’s 12-16% body fat (depending upon which tool I use to measure it). I’ll call it 14%. I want to be at around 7%. If I retain the same muscle mass, that will make my target weight 147, so I’ll work to drop 11 lbs in 60 days. That equals a loss of 1.37 lbs per week, so I’ll aim at losing a pound and a half per week.

Here’s how I’ll achieve that.

1) Count calories. No matter what diet you’re on, your body requires a certain amount of energy to maintain. Calories are not perfect, but they are a measure of the energy I’m ingesting. At my age and current weight I need around 2400 calories per day to maintain. I use a free app called MyPlate to enter my food & drink. It also estimates my caloric needs based on the goal entered. I’ve overestimated the number of pounds I want to lose per week by entering two (rather than my goal of 1.5). This should help cover for entry and miscalculation errors. At this point I must not exceed 1692 calories per 24 hours.

2) Don’t drink alcohol. I like craft beer and a good margarita. Alcohol inhibits fat loss by keeping the liver peoccupied with transforming it from its toxic state into (potentially) beneficial blood sugar.

3) Don’t cheat. One cheat day will EASILY undo a week of hard work.

4) Intermittent fasting. This makes the lower calorie intake easier and reduces or eliminates insulin resistance. This means as my baseline I stop ingesting calories at 6pm and don’t eat or drink anything but water, herbal tea (night) and black coffee (morning) until noon the next day. That’s an 18 hour fast. To keep it intermittent (somewhat random) I’ll drink a protein drink before morning weight workouts at around 10am, which equals a 16 hour fast. Occasionally (once a week or so) I’ll go until 2pm or 4pm before I take in calories.

6) Keep carbs below 20-25% of overall calories, which equals 85-100 per day.

7) Work out 30-45 minutes per day, six days a week. For me this breaks down as three weight workouts and three cardio workouts. I lift, practice karate, run the treadmill.

This works. I’ve done it. In 2017 I dropped to 5.3% body fat. I’m well north of 50 years old now. I intend to stay at around 7% which will make 150 lbs my new high weight, (141 is the lowest I’ll go). My waist will be 29. Watch me work! Now, you set some goals and get to work too!

Deliver Us From Evil

In the Bible’s Old Testament book of Judges, the leaders for whom the book is named were actually deliverers who saved Israel from foreign domination. There were 12 Judges. They were imperfect, sometimes immoral, leaders, but each one was used by God to save the people of Israel during a period of lawlessness and idolatry. The theme of Judges could be the theme of our nation today: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (17:6, 21:25). The leadership of Donald Trump parallels that of the Judges: imperfect, insecure, offensive, yet chosen by God for a purpose. Here are some examples of the Judges.

Ehud, the second Judge, delivered Israel by subterfuge and murder. He went to meet with Eglon the king of Moab under guise of peace. Ehud requested a private audience with the king, then stabbed him in the stomach with a concealed short sword.

Deborah was a respected judge who rendered decisions for Israel, and she was an unexpected deliverer during a period of patriarchal leadership.  Deborah encouraged and advised Barak in his march against the Canaanite king, Jabin. However, Barak didn’t get the glory for his defeat, nor did Deborah. Instead a woman named Jael decieved Jabin and shrewdly murdered him by driving a tent peg through is skull.

Gideon was visited by an angel as he threshed wheat while hiding in a wine press. During this time Midianite raiders would enter Israel during harvest and steal their grain, as well as their livestock. The angel complemented and encouraged Gideon: “The LORD is with you, valiant warrior!” Gideon’s response was not one of faith, however. “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his miracles…” Nonetheless Gideon was willing and obedient, even though he showed fear and doubt, needing to see signs, then requiring even further confirmation after that. God chose Gideon and used him to miraculously deliver Israel with only 300 men.

Jephthah was recognized as a valiant warrior, but he the son of a prostitute. His brothers rejected him and ran him out of their territory. However, when Israel was oppressed by Ammon those same brothers begged Jephthah to return and lead an army to deliver them.  Jephthah made them promise to make him their leader upon the successful defeat of Ammon. They agreed. In order to secure favor from the Lord, Jephthah made a rash and tragic vow to God, “if You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon it shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” (11:30-31). To prove how foolish this faithless vow was, the first thing to come out the door of Jephthah’s house was his daughter. In pride Jephthah carried out the vow.

The last judge we’ll look at is Samson. He was a miracle baby. His parents were infertile. An angel promised that God would give them a baby, but he must be a Nazirite from birth. This meant: 1) he was never to cut his hair, 2) never to drink wine or even touch grapes, 3) and never to touch a dead body. Samson is known, not for his great leadership, or wisdom, but for his physical strength. He was sexually promiscuous, a vindictive schemer, given to outbursts of rage, and he pushed the limits of his Nazirite vow by touching the carcass of a lion, and eventually telling his lover that his strength came from his long hair. Each time Samson defeated the Philistines it was for selfish reasons. This culminated in his final suicide mission wherein he literally brought the house down on his head by toppling the central pillars of a large structure, killing 3000 Philistines who were present to worship their god and mock Samson. “So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life. Except for the fact that Samson achieved several minor victories against the Philistines it is difficult to understand why he is considered a Judge, until we recognize that God chose to use this imperfect strongman to achieve His purpose.

Donald Trump is a lightening rod; people either love him or hate him. Today the U.S. House of Representatives impeached him for abusing the power of his office, and obstructing congress. Predictably the vote followed party lines. The Senate will hold a trial, and if they concur he will be removed from office. Most people doubt this will happen because the Senate is controlled by Trump’s party. Whether one loves or hates him, I would make the case that God chose to put this imperfect leader in place for a purpose. In fact, I will be bold (and appear to be partisan) by stating unequivocally that God has used Trump to stave off the relentless march of godless social and political policy in the same way the Old Testament Judges delivered Israel from foreign oppression. For the time being God has used an imperfect leader to deliver this nation from the evil it is bringing upon itself.

I. The evil of religious intolerance. The United States is imperfect, but it was established by those who fled religious intolerance. Now we face a political party that rejects First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion if either of those freedoms threaten their agenda.

II. The evil of abortion on demand. The Democrat party has pushed abortion as a signature issue. At one time leadership in the party stated that abortions should be safe and rare. Now, they wholeheartedly support Planned Parenthood, an organization that has been caught trafficking in aborted baby body parts. They not only support late term abortions– taking the life of a fetus that is viable, a baby that could be born alive–but this political group supports letting a breathing baby die. This is evil.

III. The eventual evil of Socialism. I say eventual evil because Socialism is a step in the direction of Marxism, which is inherently atheistic and intolerant of any opinion that doesn’t align with its radical economic and social viewpoint. We often hear of the evil of Nazism. Under Hitler 11 million undesirables were exterminated. This pales in comparison to the wholesale slaughter perpetrated by Socialist and Communist leaders in the 20th Century. Russia’s Stalin starved and murdered over 20 million of his people. China’s Chairman Mau exterminated more than 45 million who disagreed, Pol Pot murdered nearly two million in Cambodia. Some estimates put the murders perpetrated by Marxist ideology at more than 100 million. Yes, Socialism may well result in great evil.

I did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. I was almost deceived into voting for Hillary Clinton, but declined to do so. In the wake of the Trump Presidency what I feared has not come to pass. Trump is offensive, narcissistic, vindictive, but has proven to be a foil against those who will destroy our nation. He has supported the right of the unborn to life. He has supported religious liberty. He has opposed Socialism. I don’t agree with other positions he holds. However, he is not evil, nor is he bad for this country. However, his presidency has clearly shown us who is. I will vote Trump in 2020 if that is possible. I cannot in good conscience vote for any Democrat.

Thy Kingdom come, Lord Jesus,

Thy will be done, Father,

on earth as it is in heaven.

 

When Was Jesus Born?

Possible Years

Circa 6BC (Blomberg, New American Commentary),

As early as 12BC (Vardaman, who looks to Josephus mention of Jesus’ ministry as occurring circa AD 15-19).

Original estimate by Dionysius Exiguus in 525 AD to reset the calendar around the Advent was inaccurate. The present calendar is predicated on Jesus birth being Dec. 25th and his circumcision/presentation in the Temple fell on January 1st, which begins the anno dominus. This lines up with the early celebration of Christmas on Dec. 25th.

Herod the Great died in 4 BC, so Jesus had to be born prior to that.

The Star of Bethlehem is another possible way to date Jesus’ birth. Star newly appeared and at a specific time. travelled slowly, moved from east to south It was unusual or the Magi wouldn’t have come all the way from Persia to inquire about the birth of the King of the Jews. Magi- a priestly group in Persia, according to Herodotus (1:101) 6th C BC, associated with astronomy and astrology, which was a core educational subject in the ancient world (see Plato’s Republic, 529). Also Philo stated a belief that the stars offer “timely signs of coming events” because “the stars were made for signs” (ie. Genesis 1:14).

There is also a tradition that the Magi came from Arabia (Justin Martyr, AD 160). Clement of Rome (c. AD96) considered frankincense and myrrh to have originated near Arabia. Magi visiting kings was a regular practice in the ancient world. There are numerous references in literature of the time. Ie. Tiridates, King of Armenia, led Magi to pay homage to Nero in AD 66.

Time for Journey:

It would have taken them 1-2 months for the journey. A fully loaded camel can travel 50 miles in a day comfortably. It is 900 miles from Babylon to Jerusalem, going around the Arabian desert, thus a journey of 18 days without stopping, which they surely did.

Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BC, a theory dating back to Masha’allah AD 8th century.

Star as a comet. Comet seen on it’s way toward earth, or moving away. Perihelion is the point at which the comet’s orbit is closest to the sun. So, could the Magi have seen a comet on the way toward perihelion, which led them to Jerusalem, then lost sight of it in the sun, which led them to inquire of Herod, and regained sight as the comet came back into view.

Dio Cassius, a Roman historian, reveals a comet appeared in 12 BC (Roman History 54-29) and seemed to stand over the city of Rome. This was likely Halley’s comet. This timing would agree with Vardaman’s unique earlier chronology of Jesus life (mentioned above)

AD 1303 Halley’s comet appeared and Giotto pained a nativity with it pointing to Mary and Jesus, and leading the Magi to the creche. If the tail of the comet is vertical, then it would appear to point toward something on earth. Origen (c. 2nd C AD in Contra Celsum 1.58) states, “The star that was seen in the east we consider to be a new star… partaking of the nature of those celestial bodies which appear at times such as comets… If then at the commencement of new dynasties or on the occasion of other important events there arises a comet… why should it be a matter of wonder that at the birth of Him who was to introduce a new doctrine… a star should have arisen?”

Halley’s comet appeared on Aug. 26 of 12 BC for 56 days.

A comet appeared in 5 BC from March 9 – April 6

Another appeared in 4 BC April

The 5 BC Comet

“In March/April… this particular comet would have been first seen rising in the East in the morning sky….. the Magi first saw the comet soon after perihelion… travelled to Jerusalem, a journey time of 1-2 months, then saw the comet in the south in the morning sky as they travelled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

The conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 7 BC could well have contributed to the expectation of the Magi that something portentous was about to occur. Saturn represented the divine father and Jupiter his son. The conjunction took place in the constellation Pisces which was associated with Israel. The conjunction happened three times in May, October and December of 7BC. The message they interpreted was this: “a Messiah-king will be born in Israel.” As if to provide more confirmation Mars joined the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 6 BC; Mars represented war so the coming king would be a mighty one.

Magi Arrival

If Jesus was born in March/April of 5 BC, then the Magi could have travelled to Jerusalem by the summer. If they spoke to Herod about the constellation of Jupiter and Saturn they had seen in 7 BC, it would have caused him to err on the side of caution and kill all of the babies from two years and younger.

“Jesus would not have been born less than six weeks before the visit of the Magi… the most probable sequence of events in Matthew and Luke is: birth, visit of shepherds, presentation in Temple, return to Bethlehem to stay in house, visit of Magi. Stable/House: Since Jesus was likely born in the stable attached to a house, the house being too full of guests for either comfort or privacy, the family may have simply moved into a guest room of the house some time after Jesus was born.

Comet Hypothesis

Jesus was born in March or April of 5 BC, at earliest March 9th, and the latest May 4th. Birth around Passover: the census would have been spread over a long period, so Bethlehem being filled with people would fit the Passover time.

The Census

5th century historian Orosius (Adv. Pag. VI.22.7, VII.2.16) indicates Augustus ordered a census be taken of each province primarily to prove allegiance to Caesar Augustus. “This is the earliest and most public acknowledgement which marked Christ as the first of all men and the Romans as lords of the world… since in this one name of Caesar all the peoples of the great nations took oath, and through participation in the census, were made part of one society.’

Birth of Jesus

Earliest mention of December 25 is in the Philocalian calendar representing Roman practice of the year AD 336, which states “natus Christus in Betleem Judeae.…during the consulship of (Augustus) Cæsar and Paulus Our Lord Jesus Christ was born on the eighth before the calends of January (25 December), a Friday, the fourteenth day of the moon.”

Christmas occurs in a Roman calendar Chronographus Anni CCCLIV (AD 354), Sol Invictus was on that day and Christmas replaced it. However, since Mithraism and Sol Invictus was introduced after the birth of Jesus (no earlier than AD 90), it may well have been the other way around originally.

Radical Economy of Grace

“You reap what you sow…”

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth..”

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Karma.

These are all expressions of the Law of Reciprocity. It is the ruling principle for economic and social relationships in the natural world.

Jesus came to radically reverse the economy of the world system. In order to do this, He had to pay the massive debt owed by every person as the result of sin.  “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a). Jesus cancelled the sin debt by enduring the pain of suffering and death of crucifixion. The new economy is based upon grace and mercy. Jesus Christ paid all debts with His act of love on the cross and provided a superabundant fund of good merit from which anyone may draw when they put faith in Christ.

The natural world is primarily ruled by “balanced reciprocity,” which is: “the direct exchange of goods of approximately equal value within a relatively narrow period of time” (Green, “The Gospel of Luke” from The New International Commentary series, p. 202). Next there is “generalized reciprocity”. This is found among the members of a family—usually parents and children, but in some cultures and instances the extended family as well. In generalized reciprocity, “the exchange is essentially one sided, altruistic, the giving of a gift without explicit stipulations for any reciprocation in kind” (ibid. p. 202).

Jesus taught His disciples to invert the world system, to extend generalized reciprocity beyond the trusted boundary of family into the hostile territory of our enemies. As Jesus’ disciples we are to love our enemies by doing good to them, praying for them and blessing them, even though they may curse us. This is no lofty, unattainable ideal for super-Christians, it is Christ’s expectation for all of His followers all of the time. It is central to the life called “Christian”. If this teaching of Jesus were heeded seriously, it could radically transform every society and culture where there are Christ-followers.

How can we do this? Is Jesus calling us to be dishonored doormats? He is calling us to be like Himself. As the Roman soldiers drove the nails into His hands, Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Yet how will we have the courage to do this? Jesus said, “if someone takes your coat, do not stop him from taking your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes something from you do not demand it back” (Luke 6:29-30 contemporized by Pastor D). Do I have to give up all of my possessions simply because immoral people demand them? Do you open up your home to anyone who is homeless? Should we to spend all of our leisure time “going the second mile” for ungrateful people (see Matthew’s version of Jesus’ message, in 5:41)?  Who will protect me?  Who will take care of my needs?  That is exactly the point: the Father will provide for and protect me. I must follow the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

I don’t just give without thought. I pray. I must abide in Christ. I ask for wisdom from His Holy Spirit before I act rashly, or refuse to act on the basis of self-protection and selfish motives. I act: 1) in obedience to Christ’s command, 2) with discretion from the Holy Spirit, and 3) in the true best interest of the other, whether friend or foe, family or outsider, honest or criminal. This is God’s agape’ love. We can do this because we have a God and Father who promises to repay and care for us. In fact, when we act in obedience to Christ’s command and teaching, we are abiding in Him and thereby actively placing ourselves in the care and favor of His Almighty Father, and ours (cf. John 15:5-10, Psalm 41:1-3, Isaiah 58:1-10).

“Give and it will be given to you…”

The way the world works when it concerns money or the use of any material resource is this: Get as much as you can. Invest in whomever or whatever will bring you the most profit. Giving is foolish. Why give your money to someone who hasn’t earned it, or who will do nothing for you?

The way God’s Kingdom works is different. Giving is investing. It is investing in a person who needs help, or in a church that promotes God’s love and preaches the Good News. The person who gives from a cheerful heart to a holy cause relies on God, not human beings, to bring the increase.

I believe that when I represent Christ and tip a waiter or other service person, I will receive an increase from God. When I give assistance to a person in genuine need, God will reimburse me and bless me over and above my gift. When I tithe to my church, I am demonstrating my trust in God’s provision and promise regarding money.

If human beings were in touch with God and allowed their hearts to be their guide, government welfare programs would be largely unused. There would be less poverty. They would follow the primitive Christian example: sell property (or valuable possessions) and give the money to help the needy among them. It was a sort of voluntary communism. Christ-followers weren’t forced to do this, they chose to do it to help their brothers and sisters. 

Now, I’d say there would be no poverty if we all followed the leading of our hearts and listened to God, but I realize that what Jesus said remains true. “The poor you will always have with you.” Why is this? Not everyone can handle wealth. Not everyone will work. People make mistakes with money. So, there will always be a need for charity to help the poor. That is good. It teaches all of us what’s important.

So, do you follow the worldly model for money, or God’s economic plan. God’s plan will lead you to be a consistent giver. Following this plan means you trust God–not people–to bring you the increase and meet your needs. What you do with your money says everything about what, or who, you believe in.

A brief word on reacting naturally vs. responding with wisdom from God and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

1) The need is not the call. You cannot help everyone everywhere.

2) Give cheerfully, not grudgingly or under compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7)

3) Give without expecting a return. 

4) Don’t loan if you cannot do without it (Prov. 22:36, 5:42)

5) Pray globally, serve and give locally. Help your neighbor.

6) Don’t run after well publicized, and usually well-funded, campaigns. Look for the underserved and underfunded.

7) Be practical. Ask critical questions. What can I/we do that will help the situation/these people. You’re not there to be noticed or make your conscience feel better.

8) If you’ve gone to serve somewhere, do something helpful. Don’t stand around. Don’t get in the way of others. Let the more experienced lead the way.

9) If you think you’re too busy, or that you don’t have enough money to help. Pray. You may have something to give that others do not. Technical skill, contacts/connections, the ability to motivate others who can help.

Independence and Freedom

I was privileged to start a new church 20 years ago today. We held our first worship service at 111 Ranch in Garland, Texas on a hot July 4th evening in 1999. I chose the date with auspicious intent. 

Today is Independence Day, the day the the Continental Congress officially approved the Declaration of Independence affirming freedom for all people and rejecting British rule. It is the day we became United States of America. It took many more years for that freedom to become a reality for slaves, but the truths stated therein supported the abolition of slavery, and the civil rights movement. 

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Individuals and nations have the right to separate themselves from tyranny and to establish independence, in order to be free to pursue the life God created. 

Separation

Over the years I have been involved in several great churches, and for the denomination and its agencies that assisted in the launch of our church I have the highest regard. However, anyone who has been involved in church on more than a surface level can likely give examples of legalistic and judgmental attitudes among leadership and people. In fact, I must admit, as much as I dislike those attitudes, I’ve been judgmental too! If I am going to love people the way Jesus does, I must stop judging them.

Back then our name was City of Refuge, another symbol intended to help us turn away from being judgmental. In the Old Testament the Cities of Refuge were established to protect those who were accused of murder. Here they could run to safety from the avenger of blood, and here they would receive a fair trial. In this city the accused could continue to live without fear or shame as the result of their past mistakes or misfortunes. 

Too often, down to our day, an accusation is enough to destroy the reputation of the accused. People believe what they want to. Anyone may say anything about anyone else, publicize it via the press or social media, and many people will assume the worst, refusing to change closed minds, even when facts contradict the accusation. What happened to the presumption of innocence? Instead there is a de facto assumption of guilt toward anyone accused.  In my observation judgmental attitudes rule our culture today, from bottom to top. So, a church that suspends judgment, whether moral, social, or political, would be a welcome contrast.

Twenty years later we are called Lifewell Church, but I hope we continue to be a refuge for the oppressed and accused.  I pray we continue to be a source of acceptance and a dispenser of God’s grace to people who have been rejected. As the pastor, I seek to root out any source of sanctimony and judgment in our midst, beginning with myself!

I also wanted us to separate ourselves from all of the pretense and presumption I experienced in the institutional church. Enter some churches and you can feel the fakery. Oh, they may have orthodox theology, but the heart is not there. Concerning such people Jesus quoted Isaiah, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8, Isaiah 29:13). This may be seen in high church ritual, the slick Sunday production of a mega church, or the well worn routine of any church in between. 

Independence

I just wanted everyone to be real. When it concerns individuals that means stop hiding, no more “fake it until you make it.” Be the same person in church as you are at home, at work, at school. We can’t get well if we keep hiding the fact that we’re sick. Worse, we may be flaunting in the world the sickness we hide while we’re at church. The theme passage for City of Refuge came from Matthew 9:12-13: 

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Matthew 9:12–13, NIV)

Sadly, some (too many!) abused this grace and simply continued in their sin. Establishing a church that accepts people as they are without judgment doesn’t mean people should continue living unchanged by God’s amazing grace. Too quickly our City of Refuge became for some a Den of Thieves! “How can we who died to sin live any longer in it!” (Romans 6:1)

When I am exposed to the truth of God’s Word and inhabited by His Holy Spirit, I am changed and become more like Jesus. When you offer grace it is always possible for people to abuse it and use it as tacit acceptance for their bad attitudes and bad behaviors. No judgment doesn’t mean, no evaluation, no appraisal of right and wrong. What it means is I’m not the judge, and neither are you! We’re not even on the jury. I don’t determine your guilt or the punishment for what you may have done.

In reality, I’m here to be a physician’s assistant and Jesus is the doctor. First, I need to get well, then I need to be concerned and compassionate about bringing you to life and health. Jesus said this clearly, and it is intimately part of the same teaching about not judging.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5, NIV)

I hope and pray that we’ve not lost sight of this as Lifewell Church. It is the reason we came into existence 20 years ago. It’s part of our spiritual DNA. Acceptance and repentance are both essential to being made well by Christ. I cannot live life well when I am sick with sin. I will never come to Christ if I believe I’m too bad, too dirty, or too sick. So, we must accept people as they are, not as we wish they were. We must speak the truth in love and seek to lead people to receive the transforming spiritual life of Jesus Christ. We accept them as Jesus has accepted each of us, and we offer them the living water that will become a life well leaping up from their hearts to eternal life!

but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” (John 4:14, NIV)

Freedom

The result of this is genuine freedom, and that may be what most people associate with July 4th. The natural understanding of freedom is, I can do whatever I want. What irony, we think that we’re free when we do what we want when all the time the will is deceived, enslaved to bad habits and destructive desires. What I want falls short of God’s design. “For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). Although sin seems like freedom, it is inextricably tied to death. “The soul that sins will surely die…. For the wages of sin is death” (Ezekiel 18:4, Romans 6:23). The Apostle Paul calls this principle the law of sin and death. Jesus taught emphatically that those who sin are slaves to sin (John 8:34). 

Real freedom is not unlimited choice. I am not free when I choose to be something God didn’t design or command. There is a way things, and people, are supposed to be, and that’s not some arbitrary demand superimposed by an autocratic almighty God. There are laws of physics, the universe is fine tuned to an exquisite degree. God created it this way. The same God established what we would call moral laws as well. He gave us a conscience. He revealed a moral code to Moses. He paved the pathway to life through Jesus Christ. Now, the person who comes to Christ fulfills the law and is set free by the Spirit.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2, NIV84)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17, NIV84)

This is important to understand, to fully realize, and I sought to teach it in those early years, but some failed or refused to receive it. They left preferring a deluded lifestyle, which has resulted in destructive consequences for those who failed to have a change of heart. Once again, I hope and pray that Lifewell receives this truth and lives in God’s intended freedom.

July 4th is an auspicious date, even 20 years later. Lifewell remains a church committed to separation from sanctimonious judgment, bureaucratic religion, empty ritual, and fake faith. We are not independent from our founding denomination, although we have a strong non-denominational outreach. We are committed to the principle of priesthood of the believer, which means that each person is privileged and responsible to relate to God and read the Bible anticipating the Holy Spirit will teach them. This doesn’t mean the individual is independent from the community, rather we are mutually reliant and recognize the gifts and callings of the members of the body. I am a teacher and the overseer of our community of faith. People follow my leadership and teaching as I follow Christ. Finally, we are free! Free to worship in a manner that allows us to speak and be spoken to by God in Spirit and in Truth. We are free to follow our consciences in debatable matters, eating and drinking and dressing and entertainment. We are free from sin and it’s awful consequence: death. Praise God! Happy July 4th Lifewell Church! 

Still Crazy After All These Years

Still Crazy After All These Years

“God may be leading me to start a church.”

That’s what I said. 

Maybe.

Four months later she launched,

more like a raft on river rapids

than a sturdy ship at sea.

What was I doing

in a raft full of teenagers

and a few adults who couldn’t swim?

The current carried us

relentlessly forward,

never back.

Some jumped into the water

and swam,

back, to shore, another boat…

Our little boat went on,

the ride was wild at times,

but never out of control.

The years have passed,

people have come and gone,

but our church moves on.

I could have quit many times,

and a few times I’ve been tempted.

Something supernatural,

Someone Supernatural,

kept me here

and drives us on,

still crazy after all these years.

And, yes, I still believe.

Lifewell exists for a purpose,

to reach the unreached

and unreachable,

a refuge for the orphaned and rejected,

worshiping God without pretense,

in Spirit and Truth,

teaching the Truth of Christ, 

learning to live and love well.

Twenty years came and went.

Maybe we’re not all we could be,

or should be, 

but we’re here

because God wants us to be, 

and He has promised great things

if we hold on and believe.