Watch — New Life Church

We are excited to begin live streaming our Sunday morning gatherings.  In doing so, we are also creating a video archive for later reference or review.  Now you will be able to go and sing along with that new worship song again.  You will be able to rehash that sermon; allowing the Spirit to speak to you all over again. 

This does not mean watching will be the same as attending.  We in no way want to promote a disembodied church experience.  The Church is about togetherness.  You do not get the benefit of a hug from familiar face sitting in front of a screen.  You can not have a faithful prayer partner grab your hands and agree with you in prayer while physically absent.  Most of all, you do not participate in the unique, wonderful corporate presence of God; experiencing the uplift of worshiping together and taking communion together.  We encourage everyone to continue making the corporate worship experience a priority!

I am most thrilled that this will be an introduction of who we are to future friends who are visiting our site or church.  The first impression most will get of New Life, will be our online presence.  I am happy about that presence and hopeful that these tools will bless many! 

Tongues?

pentecost-tongues_orig.jpg

I Know, Tongues is weird

Being a pastor of a church that believes the gifts are not only for today, but a necessity for the church today, I find I get the most questions and odd looks about the gift of tongues.  I will be the first to admit...it is weird.  There is a strangeness to our belief that we can babel and somehow God uses it.

Tongues is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 along with the other gifts that we have labeled the "power" or "manifestation" gifts.  These gifts tend to be the more overt and powerful demonstrations of the Spirit in terms of visibility and impact.  For better or worse, these also tend to be the more controversial gifts.  I am saddened by this.  Ephesians 4:11-13, teaches we need the gifts to have unity of the faith, to be equipped for the works and service that builds the Church, and to attain the fullness of Christ.  Yet, the gifts (these gifts in particular) have been the subject of divisive debates and splits within the Church.  Tongues, at that, I would single out as the most divisive of the lot.

But if we take the time to understand what God has declared and done through the giving of this gift, it becomes a beautiful and rich expression of His goodness and a necessary part of your life.

So, Why is Tongues Given as a Sign and What Does it Teach Us?

First, we should understand the roots of Pentecost.  Feast of Weeks or Pentecost was a harvest party!  It was when the grain harvest would begin to be harvested and the worshiper was to bring a tenth of the first fruits to God.  This taught them to be mindful that God is the God of the harvest and all we have is because He is good and gracious.  It is God who sustains us so we joyfully give back to sustain His work in our midst.  But there is even more significance to this holiday than it being the beginning of the grain harvest. 

It really pointed to a more significant historical event.  Exodus 19:16-19 is the story of the original Pentecost, or fifty days after Passover.  In Exodus, we read that the first Pentecost is where God gave the Law.  God's command to connect the Feast of Weeks to the original Pentecost taught them as the grain sustained and satisfied them physically, the Law would sustain and satisfy them spiritually. 

In Acts 2:1-13, God redefines Pentecost (just as He had redefined Passover with Christ as the Lamb of God) by pouring out the empowerment of His Holy Spirit.  The 120 gathered in the upper room miraculously praise God and declare His wonders in many languages that they did not know!  This teaches, whereas before, the Law was what sustained us spiritually, it would now be His own Spirit that would animate the Church and bring us to His abundant Life!

A Church without exclusion

The gift of tongues is the first sign given of this new empowerment; this new way of relating to the world as God's own representatives.  Dr. Luke is careful to tell us that people were present "from every nation under heaven," (Acts 2:5 NIV).  Symbolically, this miracle of the praises of God being heard in every language, shows us God's intent for a multilingual, multicultural, and multiracial Church. 

This becomes a major paradigm shift for those who grew up Jewish.  This is why Paul would say to the Ephesians and Galatians that the old systems of categorizing people; male or female, free or slave, Jew or Greek, no longer apply.  We are now all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28)!  We no longer devalue others but see all as created in God's image with intrinsic value.

The de-babel-ization of mankind

Tongues teaches us more about God's intent for His Church.  In Genesis 11:1-9 we read the story of the tower of Babel.  This story is about more than language.  It is about a people united under one language wanting the authority and power of heaven.  In verse 6, God says, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them."  He confuses their language and they are scattered all over the earth.

At Pentecost, the whole earth is gathered and one new language is given!  It is a heavenly language!  This is the de-babel-ization of mankind.  It is the reversal of Genesis 11.  The authority and power of heaven is not taken, it is given, and all we have to do is receive it.  Now, in Christ and empowered by His Spirit, we are one people with one language and nothing is impossible!

A Church edified

There are also practical reasons for the gift.  1 Corinthians 14:26-28 instructs the use of tongues and the interpretation as a means by which God will build up or edify His church.  This is to be done decently and in order (14:40), but by no means is prohibited.  Paul says emphatically that it "must be done so that the church may be built up," (14:26). 

Personally edified

Similarly, Paul says it for personal edification.  Why would Paul thank God he spoke in tongues more than anyone (14:18)?  It is because in verse 4, he says anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves.  That is why in verse 5, he then says I wish you all spoke in tongues!

Is Tongues Still Needed?

Does the Church still need reminded that God desires a Church without exclusion?  Do we still have work to accomplish for which we need the empowerment of His own Spirit?  Does the Church still need built up and edified?  Do you still need built up and edified?  Then it is my opinion we need the gift of tongues in operation in our corporate and personal lives.

New Eyes New Day - Win By Name

8563762.jpg
 

Street evangelism; what could be more uncomfortable and challenging than that?  I think that is why I chose to go on the Deep Ellum outreach in my second month of Bible school.  “If I am not being stretched or venturing out into new experiences with the Lord, then what am I doing here,” I reasoned.  

There were close to thirty other students who must have felt the same nudge I did.  When we arrived in the Deep Ellum district of Dallas, we fanned out across four blocks of Main Street.  Being the “edgy” arts and entertainment district, there was no shortage of people whom we perceived to be in need of Jesus.  Growing up in church predominately influenced by an “us and them” theology, there were plenty of “them.”

As for “us,” there were some real characters in our group.  I will never forget the two guys whose best attempt to share the good news of Jesus was to dress up in devil costumes, yelling at people, “I have tricked you all!” while holding signs that read, “You’re All Mine!”  Being the contemplative, phlegmatic I am, I mostly leaned against the hot brick wall of The Curtain Club and observed.  An employee of the establishment stepped out to watch the same show I was.  Not knowing I was a part of this team, he leaned over to me and said, “Party poopers.”  I mustered all my courage and looked him in the eye and said, “The real party hasn’t started yet.”  

“Oh yeah?” he questioned me back with an eagerness to know exactly what party was coming and precisely how is it that he could be a part.  He looked down to my hands that were in my pocket.  My assumption was he was waiting for me to show him my “stash.”  If there was a party to be had, I was obviously in possession of some type of substance with which to party.  

So I leaned in closer to satisfy his curiosity, “Yeah, because Jesus hasn't come back yet.”  

He looked back into my eyes, took a step back, in a half disappointed and half irritated voice, he simply said to me, “Take it easy on’em.”  I will never forget that look and tone.  I wondered in that moment, if there might be a better way to display the gospel to these people who had infinite value to our Creator.  Did we miss it?

Win By Name

Our last value that we have to adopt in order to receive “New Eyes for the New Day,” is Win by Name.  Win by Name is birthed out of the revelation that we have not been, nor are we now as effective as we could be in evangelism.  While discussing this, the elders and I were burdened with the feeling that we have equated evangelism with events.  In doing so, we have unintentionally taught the congregation that we meet our evangelism quota when we participate in or volunteer for these events.  That is woefully inadequate.  This has been a painful revelation.

The Lord dealt with us on this matter and we knew that addressing this issue had to be a part of the formula of the new thing God wanted to do in our midst.  

Why The Angst

Our wise associate pastor, Oke Maertin, once quipped, “People inside the church and outside the church have one thing in common —they both hate evangelism.”  I know we all get a little anxiety when it comes to the charge of sharing our faith.  There are two reasons for this I believe.

One, it has become culturally unacceptable for us to tell people that Jesus is the only way to heaven and that we must put our faith in Him.  In the name of inclusiveness our message of  reconciliation has been excluded.  We have been bullied.  For fear of being labeled or ostracized, we have adapted to the pressure to keep our faith a private matter.  The only problem is true Biblical Christianity will necessarily disrupt society and confront powers and authorities that are anti-Kingdom.  

The Gospel will challenge the world’s values!   We see in Acts 16:16-34, that the people of Philippi realize that if this Christianity catches on, there are real financial, cultural and social consequences.  “These men…are throwing our city into an uproar…” they charge.  The local magistrates go out of their way to not just stop Paul and Silas, but to humiliate them, make them feel pain, and put them away so as not to influence anyone else.  It is not just because they are mean people; they understand if the charges are true that there is a real threat here —that the gospel will not leave things unchanged.  For those of us who have bought into the anti-Kingdom value that says your religion is a private matter between you and your god, let this disturb you, then let this motivate you.  May it be said of us, “This church is throwing our city into an uproar!”

Two, we have not been taught that this is what we do as Jesus’ followers.  Being engrafted into Christ is inseparable from being brought into His mission.  Accepting Jesus also means that we accept His vocation.  In following Him, we take upon ourselves the mission of Christ; this is the non-negotiable of being His disciple.  Romans 8:19 says all of creation is waiting in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  To rise up and take our place as the ones who mediate the glory of God to the rest of creation and to call all people into that holiness, is why we exist.  We are the Church and we exist for those who have not yet answered that call.

To be certain, one of the signs of real heart-felt change --of true conversion in your life-- is that God will give you the power and motivation to share that message; the message of His unconditional love and promise for new life.

How Do We Win By Name

Let me first suggest we need rethink how we communicate the gospel.  As I reminisce upon that muggy October night in Dallas, I know we failed to communicate the gospel properly.  Let me explain.  The "gospel" literally means "good news."  Good news means that it is...well, good.  Think about it like this.  Jesus said in Mark 10:18, "No one is good but God alone."  He alone is totally, completely, and truly good.  The "good news" therefore, is a reflection of God's good nature; it is the revelation of a good God.  That certainly was not the message communicated with devil masks and signs that read, "You're All Mine."  Moving from there, consider the angelic proclamation of Luke 2:10, "We bring good news of great joy!"  How does the good news that reveals a good God, bring great joy?  We best answer that question by understanding the gospel was being proclaimed before Jesus died on the cross.

Galatians 3:8 says that God announced the gospel to Abraham.  So what was this gospel that was announced?  "All nations will be blessed through you!"  We know this promise of "blessing" came to mean more than blessing just through the man Abraham.  It would eventually come to include the nation of Israel.  God's plan would be to raise a nation through Abraham that would be God's treasured possession according to Deuteronomy 7:6.  Ultimately, however, it would come to be understood as a promise pointing to the messiah, Jesus, who came through Israel, from Abraham.  Now, all nations, all people, all of creation is blessed because of Jesus who came through Abraham.  Galatians 3:9 continues by saying that through faith, we are blessed along with Abraham.

So here is the crux of our gospel message, "all are blessed through Christ."  That sounds good!  We, the Church, as the body of Christ, are meant to be living testaments, an embodiment of that blessing to provoke the world to faith in Christ.  Sadly, our tone has changed from Abraham's and the angelic hosts', to today.  Today, many preach and talk about the "good news" in a bad way; many preach "glad tidings" with anger.  We must show forth the character of God if we hope to bring people to Him.

We have changed our tone, now what?

We then need to understand our spheres of influence.  In your mission, you have three spheres of influence.  You have your geographical sphere; that is your neighbors, neighborhood, and places you frequent.  You have your familial sphere; your children, spouse, parents, and extended family. Finally, you have your vocational sphere; your place of work or productivity, your business associates, and any relationships that have sprung up from therein. These are spheres of influence in which God has strategically and purposefully planted you!  It is no accident you have the family you do, you live in the neighborhood you do, you shop where you shop, or you work with the people you do.  It is by Divine design!  The people God wants you to reach are the people whose names you already know!  Do you believe that?

Within these spheres, you will find almost everyone will fall into one of these three categories.  Nearly 50-55% (statistically speaking) will be unconnected Christians.  These are people who claim to believe in Jesus but have minimal to no connection with the Church.  They are missing out on the blessing of being a part of Christian community.  You will find some in your spheres to be religious nonbelievers.  These are people who have not made a faith commitment to Christ, but think that because they are "religious" they are Christian.  Lastly, you will find some to be unconnected nonbelievers.  This includes people who either claim a religious affiliation other than Christianity, or claim no faith at all.  This is an astonishingly rapidly growing segment in our culture today.  I would contend this third group is growing because we have not effectively reached the first two groups.  Here is our simple strategy.

Bring People To Jesus!  Invite people to the gathering of the Church.  Not to entertain them, but for them to encounter the presence of the living God and be drawn to Him.  There is a corporate anointing of God's presence that is different when we gather, than when we are apart. It is powerful!  I cannot tell you how many times I have seen hopeless people catch a ray of hope while observing the people of God love one another.  I have seen doubters of God tell me that they can no longer doubt the existence of God because of how they saw Him interact with His people during worship.  I have seen the hardest of hearts melt in the presence of our mighty Savior.  Who in your spheres needs an encounter like this?  Who needs to be a part of a community where they will be loved like this?  Invite them to church this week!

Bring Jesus to People!  We do this as we seek opportunities to make tangible the blessings of Christ.  How can we improve the conditions of people?  How do we address the social illnesses that are prominent in our spheres?  How do we, as the Church, meet the needs of the community around us?  Do you know a family who needs provisions?  Do you know someone who needs encouragement?  This is your God-given opportunity to bring Jesus to people.  

This is how we win by name.  This is how we change the world; one friend at a time.

New Eyes, New Day - Make it Better

8429362.jpg
 

If I were to pose the question, “How many of us believe God wants to revive a robust and vigorous love for Him, His people, and the work He wants to do in us and through us,” most assuredly everyone would agree.  Why would one ever disagree?  Standing on this common ground then, my next question would be a little more challenging.  

“Then what are you doing about it?”

Willing Vessels

For God to do what God purposes to do, He chooses to work through willing vessels.  This is the Biblical precedent.  Isaiah sees a vision of God’s terrifying and awesome throne room.  God purifies Isaiah and then asks, “Who will go for us?  Whom can we send?”  Similarly, Malachi speaks prophetically of a coming messenger that will prepare the way before the Lord.  When this work of preparation is launched, In Malachi 3:1, God says, “Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come…”

One is tempted to ask, “God if you are coming suddenly, then why must there be one to prepare the way?”  We know this prophecy is pointing to John the Baptist.  Jesus affirms this in Matthew 11:10.  However, the truth that undergirds this prophecy is subtly potent.

The truth being conveyed is that we can do nothing to “make” God come, yet at the same time He waits for us to ready ourselves and “prepare the way.”  God is going to do what God desires to do but there is  preparation and groundwork to be done.  This groundwork is not necessarily for God’s benefit, but for ours!  In our work of preparing the way, our hearts are made ready for His coming.  

Our hearts must be prepared to come along side the reviving, renewing work of the Spirit in our midst.  If we fail to prepare, be assured God will work in other ways, but what He has purposed to do in us and through us will not happen.  He will do something else equally good and wonderful, yet what He purposed to happen in and through us will be lost.

For example, New Life Church’s influence spreads throughout southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio.  God has a particular purpose and role for us to play in His work of blessing and redeeming this area.  However, if we are not prepared to step into our moment, into our calling, God will continue to work in this area for sure, but the way He intended to use us, this church, is postponed at best, forfeited at worst.

Galatians 4:19 we read that Paul understood this truth.  He tells the Galatian Christians that “Christ is to be formed in you, but that will not happen if I do not labor for you.”  It is not that God cannot work in their lives apart from Paul, but what God wants to do is work in their lives through Paul.  Paul knows that if he is not willing nor prepared to labor, then he will miss the role God intends him to play in the work of blessing and redeeming the Galatians.

I Must Participate

Hear what I am saying.  There are some things that will not happen in me and in the lives of the people God has placed around me, if I am not willing nor prepared to allow God to work in and through me.  God will still accomplish what God intends to accomplish, but it will look differently.  If I do not participate, the shape of this church and the world will be different.  He will raise up another, but the blessing, fruit, and progress that He willed for me will be postponed or forfeited.  

I must participate.  Paul tells the Ephesians in 2:10 that we were created to do good works.  Paul tells Titus in 2:14 that Jesus redeems us, purifies us, makes us His own, so we could be “zealous for [these] good works,” (ESV, KJV).  When He created you, God had in mind the things He would have for you to do.  These good works are nothing less than continuing the very work of Christ on the earth as His body.  The call to follow Jesus is indistinguishable from the call to share in Jesus’ work which is to bless and redeem the entire cosmos unto Himself.

When you participate in the good works He has for you, you indeed bring glory to God.  The work we do as His body is what points to and teaches the world about Jesus.  Jesus says as much in John 10:22-42, “The works I do testify about me…Believe the works.”  In other words Jesus says if you want to understand who I am then look at what I do.  In a very real and powerful way, if we want the world to know Jesus, we have to do His work.

Make It Better

This is the heart of “Make it Better:”  Understanding we have a role to play, and our willingness to take responsibility and labor affects God’s work among us.  Ultimately as we step into the good works we have been created for, we will bring Glory to God.  Let’s make it a little more practical.

We have been engrafted into a global, universal family of God through Jesus.  We also have been planted in a local expression of that family through our church.  We gather as a community, as New Life Church, bonded by familial relationship and calling.  There is tremendous energy and excitement, and synergy that happens when work together as a church to bring God glory.  We should be very excited about the possibilities of how our combined willingness to labor will shake the earth! 

How do we do that?

At this point, I think of Luke 10 and the scene with Mary and Martha.  I am convinced we need to be both Mary and Martha.  We need to be both at Jesus’ feet listening and praying, and we need to be in the kitchen making a meal.  

There are times for us to be Mary, on our face, in the Lord’s presence, in the place of intercession.  We need to do this because there are some things God will not do until we have prepared the way through prayer and intercession.  Sometimes it is our heart that need to be more broken; sometimes it is the principalities. 

There are also times for us to be Martha because there is work to be done.  Not that we stop listening to Jesus —we are always listening to Him— there comes a point, however, when we have to get up from the carpet, roll up our sleeves, and get to the work of Christ in this world.  There is drug addiction.  Families are falling apart.  People need food.  People need love.  These problems need something beyond intercession; they need Christ’s body to get out into the field and bring in the harvest.

That is the faithful Christian life.  That is the life Jesus models as there are times He separates Himself in prayer and times he is casting out demons and feeding five thousand.  So let us model this faithful Christian life too.

We need to labor in prayer.  Let us pray for a continual renewing of our vision, for new eyes.  Let  us pray we arrive at God’s intentions for our church, for the new day He has in mind.  Let us pray for one another, for unity, for love.  Let us pray for the needs, strongholds, and brokenness in our neighborhoods, families, and world. 

We also need to get up and get to work!  We need to resist complaining and make it better.  As you walk around the church —observing the family, using the facilities— when you notice things that can be better, if it is within your power and ability, by all means do it!  Make it better!  Grab the vacuum.  Change the lightbulb.  Do the dishes.  Clean the toilet.  Start the small group.  Be the hospitable one.  Be the reconciler.  Invite that family or friend to church.  Volunteer for the outreach.  Create the ministry.  Be the encourager, the doer, the worker, and not the complainer.

Let’s make it better!