Thursday, April 30, 2009

ASSOCIATION OF RELATED CHURCHES (ARC)

The All Access Conference by ARC just closed. Some of America's most successful pastors met for three days with new and recent church planters to share their "DNA."

Lives will be changed, churches will grow because of this meeting.

Several of America's fastest growing churches are part of ARC.

Thanks Greg Surratt, Billy Hornsby, and the ARC leadership team for your vision.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

ABOUT PASTOR DINO RIZZO'S NEW BOOK "SERVOLUTION"

Somebody told me years ago, “It takes 20 years to prepare a sermon and a lifetime to write a book.”

Words can be spoken from pulpits and put on paper and bound in books in a very short time but crafting those words comes one experience at a time. They are forged in the heat and pressure of reality

Dino Rizzo’s new book SERVOLUTION was a quick read for me—because I’ve lived alongside his life and watched it develop. The words are not new to me; they are just on paper now.

When Healing Place Church was about three years old we moved back to Baton Rouge and got involved. I can remember telling my wife Jean, “With that much honesty in the pulpit, this church has to become great.”

It did.

Healing Place Church and hundreds of other churches Dino’s life and ministry have influenced are Exhibit “A” that his God-given, Holy Spirit-anointed, high-voltage revolutionary ideas really work.

This book will change your life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

STRANGE FIRE

Dare we even ask the question?

Is it possible churches and believers are offering up strange fire unto God?

Fire is metaphoric for the anointing, the presence of the Holy Sprit.

Strange fire is defined as unauthorized fire not sourced in God and offered to God in ways He did not prescribe or approve.

More and more we see troubled ministers try to create a facsimile of anointing of the Holy Spirit with talent and personality, borrowing techniques from the secular and pagan.

Some Bible scholars even make the case that Nadab and Abihu (Aaron’s sons) took the fire from pagan altars into the temple. In their case God sent the real fire and consumed them. He called their fire, “Strange Fire.”

Taking strange fire is telling God, “I don’t have to do it like you said. I can do it better my way.” It’s a bit like they think they can blackmail God into accepting their erroneous act for the sake of not embarrassing the people observing the event.

How many leaders have pleaded with God to not expose their sin because it would do so much damage to the church?

So often it seems men arbitrarily re-interpret God’s Word to endorse their actions, and then try to convince God that’s what God really meant in the first place.

A congregation will not always sense the lifting of God’s anointing right away. Leaders can become very skilled at audience control so that it can even appear anointed. But that fa├žade cannot be sustained. Soon the audience will know something is missing, something is wrong.

Absent the Holy Spirit’s moving upon the hearts of the people, frauds in the pulpit resort to human tactics to impact an audience. Some church leaders will continue to allow musicians to minister because they are so skilled—all the while knowing the musician has a spiritual problem.

I watched over a period of years one famous international radio speaker who had once stunned and moved audiences with anointed preaching of the Word. When he sensed that power leaving, he resorted to bathroom humor to shock the audience and then tried to use wordsmithing skills to put a holy face on the message.

The end result was empty altars.

One friend attended a meeting where an evangelist noted for leading audiences into hilarious laughter began his message with a story about how he had come to the pulpit with his fly unzipped. Of course the audience laughed and the meeting was off in high gear.

I just saw a “gospel” music video on a Christian music network in which a pretty young lady dressed in body-hugging sweater and tight slacks had the spotlight while singing a song of worship to God. Legs apart, knees bent she suggestively thrust her pelvis to the beat of the song. How many viewers received sexual imagery from what was supposed to be Christ-exalting worship?

A young man hosted a Christian network program that featured a teenaged girl doing an interpretive dance to a worship song. At the end of the dance his first words expressed his amazement at how beautiful the girls was—sensuality had stolen the worship away from God..

Strange fire!

Old fashioned? Maybe so, but so are the Ten Commandments and so are Scriptural admonishments to live a holy life.

The altar has become old fashioned.

Why has the altar disappeared in so many churches? One reason is that it is the office of the Holy Spirit to draw the sinner to Christ. Human suasion is never enough.

When a minister, absent the Holy Spirit’s anointing on his ministry, tries to give an altar call and nobody responds, that minister quickly decides not to do that again—it’s too embarrassing.

So he stops giving altar calls and gives ambiguous suggestions. I was in the service when the pastor of one large, influential church closed the service this way:

“Bow your heads and close your eyes.
“Now, if you’d like to feel a little closer to Jesus, lift your head and catch my eyes with yours.
“That will be my signal to pray for you.
“I don’t want to embarrass you.”

What a slap on God’s face to even suggest that repentance before an Almighty God is an embarrassment to be avoided.

This is not a light thing that God will ignore—let alone bless—when ministers whose lives and motives defy God lead a congregation in music or worship or ministering God’s Holy Word.

Right now I’m remembering an old altar chorus, “Oh, Lord, send the fire just now…” a dangerous prayer for anyone playing with strange fire.

Are we willing to pray, “God, please give us the spiritual discernment to recognize strange fire in our own lives?"

Do we have the courage to ask God to expose strange fire no matter where, no matter who?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

CHILD JESUS, WHEN DID YOU KNOW?

Did you know the meaning of what you just saw, Child Jesus? You've seen the Passover celebration many times, and it was always the same.

What did you think when you first saw the spotless little lamb they brought forward? Did the tender child part of you want to wrap the lamb in your arms to protect it?

On the other hand, you are the child who astounded the priests with you knowledge of what the prophets had said. Surely you knew, or did you?

Something in your eyes as you watched the lamb seemed to say that you did know that the loving lamb was but a living metaphor to help us understand your part in the grand plan of salvation. There was a bond between you.

All the ritual you observed would consummate in your own life--were you aware of that?

Did you shiver a little just then when you saw the priest pierce the lamb's body to shed its blood into a cup--blood that would be poured out upon the altar for the remission of sins?

Did your words about that cup echo back from the future Upper Room Supper? You watched so knowingly as the priest performed the ritual of the cup.

Was that glaze of tears in your eyes just a lens that let you see the people of all generations--including me--whose sins your blood would cover?

Those two pomegranate poles lying on the ground like a cross--what are they for? Oh, I see. They took the longer one and pierced it through the length of the lamb's body. The short one was used to spread-eagle the front legs.

Christ Child, did something in you just shudder as you saw the lamb lifted up on the cross to be hung over the searing fire?

When you accepted your portion of the sacrificed lamb to eat, you held it for an extra moment. Your tender ex­pression firmed a little--like you were reconfirming a decision. You would, indeed, follow through and complete the awesome contract to repurchase our souls from hell.

From start to finish, the Passover pageant unfolded the great drama of redemption. The plan was born be­fore time began. Justice and symme­try born in the mind of God had now taken form within the logic of man. Concepts beyond limited human rea­sonings were given recognizable shape in life.

Before Bethlehem you knew the plan, and at some time after you knew it again. You knew that the only way we could know the Father was to know you as one of us.

The Passover was finished for an­other year now, and it looked like that knowing sense of purpose stayed with you. Did you know that it wasn't re­ally over until you became that lamb on the cross?

When did you know it would be you who would declare to all genera­tions, "IT IS FINISHED!"

Friday, April 10, 2009

THE MAN WITH THE WHIP

Today, Good Friday, we commemorate this.

I did it.

I'm the one.

I'm the man with the whip that lashed the back of the Son of God.

Even now, after all this time, when I close my eyes I see the blood, the torn, bleeding flesh of God Incarnate's back.

And I weep.

As a Roman soldier it was not the first lashing I'd ever given, but this one was different.

Come back to the moment and relive it with me.

Pilate just ordered the scourging of the Nazarene. I'm uneasy about this and I fear that my commanding officer will order me to do it.

The officer is nodding toward me. I salute him my obedience.

I must do it.

Normally being the lichter doesn't bother me. I know I am executing the just penalties of law breaking.

But this one is different.

I know this Man's reputation. They say He has done only good things-that He has done miracles. They even say He's the Son of God.

Can it be true?

Am I about to punish God's own Son?

My mind reels. It feels like my soul is fleeing my body and leaving a dank, foul cavern inside me.

But if I disobey the order, I will be the one to receive the lashes…

The whip in my sweaty hand is heavier than it's ever been as I walk toward the Man. He is looking at me and it's taking my breath away.

It's never been like this. Normally they are trembling and their eyes glare with fear and hate toward me.

I want to look away but that would show weakness.

"Stop looking at me!" my mind silently screams at Him.

No fear in His eyes. It's rather like He is feeling sorry for me.

"I can't do this!" "You must!" my mind battles.

"I'll just go easy on Him," I think as I bring the cat-o'-nine-tails down the first time.

"Soldier!" my commanding officer shouts. "Harder! He must be taught the power and justice of Rome."

The Man is looking at me again. His eyes seem to give me permission to continue-like this was something that has to happen.

Fellow soldiers are counting out the number and cadence of the strokes. It's all just a blur of lashes and blood and torn flesh-and His eyes.

He never cries out during the whole beating.

The scourging is over and one last time I look at Him.

The eyes again. He isn't saying anything. But, I'm sure His eyes are saying, "I forgive you."
All I can think of now is to get away. That foul cavern inside me wants to erupt and spew out the bile of this wretched deed.

"Run. Find a place to gain control of yourself."

I throw down the whip and run.

They are taking Him away now. I hear the crowd chanting, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"

I see where we are going-out to the garbage dump at Golgatha.

And again it's all a blur of hammer "thunks" and nails and blood and screams-not His but from those two criminals beside Him.

I can't turn away. He's telling one of the men beside Him, "Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise."

I begin to know Jesus must really be the Son of God-our Savior.

How can I bear the weight of what I have just done?

He's saying something again. He's calling upon His Father.

"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

It stuns the crowd.

He's lowering His head and opening His eyes.

And our eyes lock again.

This time I know they are saying, "I forgive you, son."

I know I'll never forget what I have done, but neither will I ever forget the warm balm of His forgiveness.

It's over now. He has surrendered His spirit into the Father's hands.

A sun-darkening storm has come suddenly with torrential rain and violent lightening.

Over by the Temple is a great commotion. Somebody shouts, "The veil is rent! The Holy Place has opened up!"

I'm trying to ask my commanding officer for permission to leave. He doesn't even acknowledge my presence. And then I discover he is experiencing the same awesome moment of forgiveness I did.

"Truly this man was the Son of God." he says

I've just reread these words. When I got to the place where the soldier threw down the whip, a crushing thought came.

Too many times I have picked it up--I've been the man with the whip.

Every time I have sinned my sweaty hands have reached for the whip and punished God.

Authors often assume the identity of their subject to sense more fully the emotions of an event. They call it writing in the “first person.”

I wasn't prepared for the stunning awareness that I was, indeed, that first person.

Too heavy for me, this weight of guilt.

Too heavy, that is, until once again I hear Him say, "Father, Forgive."

Thank you, Awesome God!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

DON’T STOP THE MUSIC!

When I was a baby, a toddler, a young lad, I was swaddled by the sounds, order and words of the music of my family’s faith. As a teen playing in the church orchestra I felt the power of tones and cadence and the guiding theology of the words. We called that special voltage of Christ exalting music the “anointing.” Like the anointing oil in some biblical stories.

It was warm and sweet and gentle and the music penetrated deep into our spirits and our memories.

Later I tried to drown out the faith words and orderly sounds by filling my mind with the rebellious, soul destroying torrent of secular music. Fewer and fewer wholesome songs made it to the world's playlists.

People are less and less able to tolerate silence—it lets them hear the voice of their own soul. Many override it with the jack-hammering anti-Jesus sounds and message of despair, sex and greed.

God is a God of order. Not chaos. Not confusion. There must be a comparison made to the orderly use of rhythm, sounds, tempo, emphasis that have made anthems of the faith be cherished for centuries, and the often frenetic order-breaking music sweeping the church today.

God is not the author of confusion—lack of order. The farther away from order we take our music, the closer we come to disorder and confusion—antithetical to very God we worship. Where would it take us if we explored God’s rejection of “strange fire” in this context?

The Holy Spirit is a life-enhancing gentleman. The unholy spirit is a demanding destroyer.
This is for sure; the music embeds the words deep into our lives and our memories. Those words become an underlying pattern for our thoughts and thus our actions.

Even in my most rebellious days I could always remember the words and power of Gospel music. When I encountered a crisis or a jubilant moment my mind would return to the words.

In the depths of my rebellion I hated the power those old songs had on me. Like the song, “Yes, I know, I surely know Jesus’ blood can make the vilest sinner clean.” I would curse the tears that came when I heard it.

The words were, indeed, a pulsing and action-auditing script for my life.

When we choose the music we will listen to, we are choosing the script that will be written into our hearts.

And that’s the word—script.

We call God’s Word the Scriptures. Perhaps you own heart has just now leaped to the awareness that God wills that the Scriptures become the script of our lives.

A few decades ago some pop-psychologist tried to make the case that nursery rhymes had life-long scripting power in our lives. One tried to make the case that the Little Red Riding Hood became the guiding plot—script—for the lives of the readers. He called it the LRRH script. He made the same case for other childhood fairytales.

Adding music and pulsing rhythm to the words intensifies their power. Tyrants and movement leaders know this well. China's Mao Tse Tung funded artists to teach the population songs of war and triumph. I have stood in primary schools in China and watched the glowing eyes of children as they sang about the glorious revolution.

I felt the power of a young choir in Hanoi as they sang about “Uncle” Ho Chi Minh.

I have known the soul-chilling presence of evil as African witchdoctors danced and intoned their hellish word-scripts.

I lived near the Waterloo battlefield where Napoleon’s army marched to the fifes and drums. The steady demand of the drum beat forced tired feet to keep marching. The lilting arpeggios of the fifes lifted the marchers' spirits above the fear of going into battle.

Our own military marching bands and martial music serve our warriors well.

Sadly, the devil knows how to use that power—often better and much more aggressively than we Christians. His unrelenting throb in the beat and the hell-anointed lyrics compel and control young people to join the driven throng hurtling to destruction—following the hell-written script.

But, the songs of faith are no less powerful.

Come with me to a room full of young people who spurn hell’s script and fill their minds and hearts with God’s scriptures and Christ-exalting music. Join us as they board the plane to fly to the hard places of the world to invest their lives in leading others to Christ. They will face life-threatening and theology-challenging situations. The embedded script will guide them through the dark days.

A caution to the church: bring back the songs—the scripts—about the blood, about repentance, about the call to foreign fields, about the soon return of Jesus Christ. Praise is wonderful and right. We all grow nearer to Him in Praise and Worship, but to leave out these themes denies believers that underlying script for victory.

When should we start the script with our children? Jean sang to our children from the day they were born. Plant—embed—the script early and deep. It will serve your family well.

Don’t stop the music.