Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Fragments from YFC/USA President, Dan Wolgemuth

June 27, 2008

It often seems to me that as Jesus taught His disciples an important lesson, He didn’t take the “shortest route.” For instance, in Matthew 16 Jesus warns His band of followers about the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It was clear that Jesus had a deep concern about the doctrinal stance and the practical outworking of the teaching of these two groups.

However, instead of simply declaring His concern, Jesus takes a trip through the countryside…

The disciples, having arrived at a particular destination, realize that they have done so without packing lunch. “When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread.” ~ Matthew 16:5

From this intersection, Jesus turns in the most unusual direction… “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

As the disciples worked to decipher the map of Jesus’ teaching, winding through “Betty Crockerland” and the perspective that He had enrolled them in a baking class, they finally arrived at the outpost of His intended destination by verse 12: “Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

How utterly inefficient. What a waste of intellectual fuel to turn this simple lesson into a group project, and yet how amazingly consistent with Jesus’ typical approach.

The lessons of Christ, the ones that He wanted deeply imbedded in the hearts and minds of His followers, were communicated in a way that engaged multiple senses. He could have written this statement on the whiteboard: “Pharisees are hypocrites” ~ Luke 12:1, but instead, He meandered through the educational countryside.

And yet I’m confident that Jesus’ intent and His methodology were precise and intentional. His design was for life to provide classroom reminders, long after the disciples had misplaced their lecture notes. Jesus wanted to connect the vital spiritual lessons to everyday experiences, which would provide poignant refresher courses long after Jesus had returned to His Father.

From this experience forward, every time a disciple walked by a bakery, every time he held a crust of bread in his hand, every time he witnessed the invisible, yet comprehensive impact of yeast, he would remember the pointed reminder. Jesus knew that the more senses he could engage in His teaching, the more likely the lesson was to connect.

Real lessons, connected to real life. You can almost smell the impact. It’s Theology 101 in the classroom of Jesus.

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East Rock Community Church

Some people who keep up with me may be wondering if I have an update on East Rock Community Church.

For my part, I have two dilemmas (or mistakes) that I'd like to amend: (1) To schedule more time to work with the people whom God has given us some influence; (2) That I'd started with a few more committed Christians with whom we could share the work and increase our circles of influence.

That being said, I love it! I love working with people! We are finding that the new believers that God has sent among us are growing. We are also finding that God is sending us a few baby Christians and a few others who are trying to find a place to be accepted and comfortable.

Speaking of comfortable, I preach the same everywhere. I DO use different language depending on my audience, such as speaking with less "churchy" words in front of less churchy people. However, I speak with the same passion and forthrightness in front of every audience. You say, "What's this have to do with 'comfortable'?" Simply this, I preached a tough message at a local church not too long ago and people walk by me -- you know, the preacher at the door routine -- and say, one after the other, "I enjoyed that." I think to myself, I don't know that I was looking for you to "enjoy" that. I never hear that at East Rock. I mean this as a compliment to the people. I see them struggling to grow in faith. I see them struggling against their own flesh. I see some succumbing to it. I am not talking only about "them" as if there are some that are more "spiritual". I am talking about "them" as "us". There is an openness and humility that I really enjoy. There is an expectation of change in the air.

I mean, hey, it's great if the service is enjoyable. It's great if you are encouraged. It's great if God gives you joy. But, and believe me on this, when you come before the Lord, it's not about your comfort or how much you enjoy something; it's about Him working to make you into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). That's not always fun and rarely is it easy. Let me illustrate it this way: One man in our midst recently was "done wrong" by a supposed friend. He'd helped this man strictly upon the basis of the teaching he is receiving at ERCC. The man wounded our East Rock friend and our friend was really hurt. He was convinced that he would never want to do this "Christian *&%^#%@" again. He was also convinced that his peace was stolen and that he could never forgive the other man. A sermon spoke to our friend's heart and began to both heal his pain and speak into his anger. After church one evening, we laid hands on our friend and prayed mightily for him. It was a very cool event that showed that a sermon is not always enjoyable, but it can bring joy through breaking and healing.

So, what am I getting at? I like where we are, but am not satisfied. I like our people's reactions to how God is moving. Yes, I want more people. Yes, I look forward to the day when there are more workers in the field AND more people to work with. Yes, I see God moving. Yes, I see people receiving. Pray for us.

More later...

Luke #56 – Spotting the Enemy

Luke #56 – Spotting the Enemy

“And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil” (Luke 4:33a – King James Version).

Some of the most wonderful people I ever met in my life were the people of South Korea. For over a year I roomed with a Korean soldier in our post barracks. Also, my day to day assistant was a Korean soldier. Both were fine young men who I am privileged to have known and served with. Cpl. Jo worked along side me each day and I had a running joke with him. Often we rode together on daily missions and I used to look over at Cpl. Jo and say, “You know Jo, if war breaks out with North Korea you are going to be the first one I shoot.” Trust me, it was a joke and Jo knew that. The joke stemmed from a conversation Jo and I had once in which I asked him how I would tell the North Koreans from the South Koreans if war broke out. Jo couldn’t give me an answer. Hearing Jo and I joking about this one day, the executive officer of our battalion said, “Don’t worry boys…the 6/37 Field Artillery (that was our unit) is the number one target of the entire North Korean Air Force. If war does break out, you boys will probably be annihilated so fast, you will not have time to worry about whose side someone is on.” I knew Maj. Fernandez was kidding, but only to a degree.

Today’s verse shows us that evil lurks everywhere, even (or especially!) in the church. Jesus was in Capernaum, teaching in the synagogue, when a man with an unclean spirit cried out. One might think that places of worship would be the safest place to avoid the powers of evil, but I contend that Satan and his minions are never more present than in the times Christians gather together.

In Matthew 13:24-30, our Lord teaches us that Satan sows his weeds amongst God’s wheat. In that same passage Jesus says, “Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds and burn them and to put the wheat in the barn” (13:30 – NLT). Well, if we aren’t supposed to pull the weeds from amongst the wheat, what are we supposed to do? I think that answer is found in the instructions of the apostle Paul to Titus: “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9 – NKJV). Simply put, we are to work alongside God in seeing them changed! Certainly, if Christ can transform water into wine, He can transform weeds into wheat! Our job is to be salt and light, show Jesus, and share the truth of the word.

Sadly, I don’t think many of us care that evil is in the church. All too often we stand idly by and hope that we don’t have to get involved. That unclean spirit got mighty uncomfortable when Jesus came to the synagogue that day. In our churches, those unclean spirits sometimes never get uncomfortable because Jesus hasn’t shown up! What I mean to say…and I want to be perfectly understood here…is that we aren’t showing people Jesus! Believers are the vessel of His presence and if we are not letting Him be Lord of our lives from second to second, then often evil is not confronted by His holy presence. We are good at being nice and signing petitions, but we often fail when it comes down to actually being Christ-like.

When Jesus spoke in that synagogue that unclean spirit became afraid! He said, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are--the Holy One of God!” (4:34 – NKJV). Realizing this, we should also realize that when we are truly letting Christ live in and through us some folks are going to be uncomfortable around us. We are not to Lord it over them as if we have cornered the market on Jesus; rather, we should be ministers of reconciliation desiring freedom from bondage and forgiveness of sins for those caught by evil.

Yes, dear friends, call them weeds; call them tares; call them unclean spirits; whatever we call it evil is in the midst of the saints. Like my experience in South Korea, we may not be able to tell the difference between the enemy and the ally until it is too late. Jesus may come back to harvest the church before some are identified. Know this though, be Christ-like and they will cry out in holy terror.

I never wanted to kill a potential ally. I wanted to identify who was on my side. I wanted to win over those who were not. In my service to God through the church today, I take much the same attitude. Not only do I want to identify my adversary, but I want to win them over to my side too. That day, in the synagogue, Christ did just that. Today, in our churches, we can do the same. Jesus did not participate with the enemy, but He did not tolerate him either. Jesus rebuked the evil spirit and freed the man who was the vessel of it. Personally, I am not willing to wait until it is too late to see who is what. I am resolved to be Christ-like. If that makes people uncomfortable, so be it! At the end of the day, I hope I will be used of God to bring some over to His side. How about you?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Luke #55 – Too Mad to Change vs. Open to Learn and Transform

Luke #55 – Too Mad to Change vs. Open to Learn and Transform

“And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast Him down headlong. But He passing through the midst of them went His way, and came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the Sabbath days. And they were astonished at His doctrine: for His word was with power” (Luke 4:28-32 – King James Version).

I have an old saying that I use all the time that deals with folks that complain about sermons. I use this saying often when identifying those who were convicted but refuse to surrender to God on the issue at hand. Usually it applies perfectly. I always say that when you throw a rock in a pack of dogs the one that yelps is the one you hit. Now, friends, I never seek to be politically correct nor popular. Neither do I want to be arrogant or mean. I do want to tell the truth when I preach and exhort the lost to salvation and the saved to growth in Christ. When you do that faithfully by the whole and inerrant word of God, sometimes folks get mad at you.

Recently I preached a sermon to a group of folks about the subject of encouragement. I was rather frank and I thought the sermon itself was very encouraging. I had no more said “Amen” when a lady rushed toward me and began to berate my style (too forthright), complain about my language (she said I talked too fast), question my education (obviously not enough in her opinion), carp about the message (not what people needed to hear) and criticize every other thing she could think of (and believe me, it was a long list…I think she even told me I ought to shave my beard off!). I said to myself, “I know where the rock hit!”

Jesus hit a few dogs in Nazareth! The folks there got so mad that they ran Jesus out of town. They wanted to pitch Him off of a hill, but He just walked right through them and on to Capernaum.

God pierces my heart with brokenness when I read this passage. God chastens those whom He loves and He loves this world full of sinners (ref. Revelation 3:19 and John 3:16). He chastens us so that He can show us our sin, point us to Christ who is the solution, and draw us to Himself. I become broken at the very thought of God communicating with people and people refusing to respond. I hear His holy voice calling to sinful people; “Come to Me all ye who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The rest He wants to give us is from the bondage of sin. He MUST point out that which holds us away from Him.

The sad thing is that He will call and if we do not respond, He may move on (Romans 11). Now that is a sad thought, but a reality. I’ll tell you something I find sad; I can find no record of Christ ever returning to Nazareth after this point. Many people respond to God, but not in brokenness; rather in pride and anger.

How do we respond to convicting messages? They come many forms; through a preacher, another believer, by Bible reading, or in our circumstances and certainly in our prayer life. Just as Jesus did in Nazareth, He is speaking to hearts today. He is calling us on our sins and desiring us to respond in brokenness (Psalm 51:16-17).

Do you get so mad that you refuse to change? OR, are you open to hear the voice of God and experience transformation? It does no good to get mad at the messenger. My pastor always says that when we encounter God one of two things happen; “You either change or die.” Which will it be? Will we change and draw nearer to Him? Will we deny His message and see our relationship with Him pass away? The people of Nazareth got mad; Jesus walked away. The people of Capernaum were astonished; Christ healed there.

This one is for Jason...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

YFC - OMC Breakfast Rap

This was a couple of young men we took to Outdoor Mission Camp. I asked Tyree (right) to give me a few bars before breakfast; he asked Ridge (left) to give him a beat and dropped this little diddy right off the dome. Funny and fun...good, clean fun.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Luke #54 – Don’t Miss a Blessing

Luke #54 – Don’t Miss a Blessing

“And all bare Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph's son?’ And He said unto them, ‘Ye will surely say unto Me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.’ And He said, ‘Verily I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian’” (Luke 4:22-27 – King James Version).

When I was in the military I played a lot of basketball. It was a good way to stay in shape. Once I was the twelfth man on a twelve man team. I rarely even got to sit on the bench; most of the time I had to sit on the floor! Our unit had two teams and mid-way through the season I was switched to the other team because it was riddled with injuries. Pretty soon after the switch I played against my old team. Before the game, one of my old teammates jokingly said, “Take it easy on us.” I know the fellow was poking fun at me; most likely he thought I would sit the bench for my new team just like I’d done with my old team. I scored seventeen points that game. Another of my old teammates said, “How come you never did that for us?” My reply was to the point; “Because you guys never let me in the game.”

I think Jesus could relate to my story. The people of Nazareth never let Him in the game. They didn’t expect much from Jesus. They had only saw Him sit the proverbial bench. He took His miracles to another team, so to speak.

Perhaps the people of Nazareth expected special favor from a hometown boy. Surely they didn’t think He was the Messiah, but they did know that the hand of God was upon Him. They knew of His deeds in Capernaum; a place where Christ often was, and where He cured the centurion's servant of the palsy, and Peter's wife's mother of a fever, and another man sick of a palsy, and the woman of her bloody issue, and a man that had a withered hand, and where he raised Jairus's daughter from the dead. Perhaps they thought that Jesus owed them special favor. How could He show favor to a people who did not believe He was who He said He was?

Jesus used the examples of Elijah and Elisha. These two prophets were God’s messengers in a time when Israel was not living for God. The people took God for granted; were apathetic toward Him. They missed many blessings; so much so that God sent His prophets to do mighty works outside the covenant nation family of Israel. Jesus was illustrating how God would take His blessings where people would appreciate them; where people would believe Him.

How many times do we leave Jesus on the bench? How many times do we think we deserve some favor just because we know Him? How many times do live with a spirit of unbelief or apathy but want His miraculous power in our lives? How many times do we live like Jesus doesn’t exist until we want something from Him?

We cannot trifle with God. We cannot expect to live in unbelief concerning Jesus AND have Jesus do mighty works in our life. We cannot make Christ the twelfth man in our life. He must be given first place. He should not only be the star player in our lives, but the coach, manager and owner. Do you ever wonder why He is not working more in your life? What position does He occupy? We’d all better be careful…He might take His works to another team.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Luke #53 – Preconceived Notions

Luke #53 – Preconceived Notions

“And He began to say unto them, ‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.’ And all bare Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph's son?’” (Luke 4:21-22 – King James Version).

We used to camp on the back side of an area of Hyco Lake called McGhee’s Mill. Growing up I had camped, swam, and fished in this spot more times than I can count; it was my favorite spot. There was a rock jutting out over the water that we used to jump off of all the time. It might have been three of four feet high and it was perfect for diving. There’s no telling how many times I’d jumped off of that rock.

Late one night I took a group of my school friends out to that favorite spot to go swimming. We goofed around awhile, splashing and playing in the water. I said, “Let’s go jump off of the rock.” As we walked over toward the rock one of my friends asked, “How deep is the water here?” “Oh,” I replied, “Don’t worry about that. It’s deep enough.” With that said, I let out a great shout, ran and vaulted feet first off of the rock. When my feet hit the soft mud under the water I landed on a piece of glass and nearly cut my toe off; it was slashed down to the bone and tendon. Not only was there glass in the water, but apparently someone had dumped such a great amount of dirt and trash there that the water level in that spot was three or four feet more shallow.

Familiarity, it is said, breeds contempt. That’s true in a great many cases. Familiarity also breeds preconceived notions. Take my slashed toe for example; I assumed that the water was deep enough and the conditions were safe because I had jumped from that spot so many times. A smarter guy would have checked the area out before taking the plunge.

In today’s Scripture we read the reaction of Jesus’ fellow hometown neighbors when He verbally revealed that He was the Messiah. They basically said, “Wow, this guy is an amazing speaker, but isn’t he just the town carpenter’s son?” Familiarity, in this case, caused preconceived notions. They thought they had Jesus pegged. They had watched Him grow up and obviously thought “There is no way this guy can be the Messiah! He’s just ol’ Jesus…he’s nobody! How can he be the Messiah?” Maybe, just maybe, some investigation was in order. The Gospel writer, Dr. Luke, did not write in a chronological style, but in a logical style. I say that to say that Jesus had already been performing miracles before this visit to His hometown (verse 24). I would even have to imagine that news of the twelve year old Jesus’ visit to the temple would have spread while He was growing up. Surely His neighbors had heard how Jesus had wowed the teachers at the temple and realized there was more to Him than met the eye. Yes, I firmly believe that investigation into Jesus’ Messianic claim would have dissolved any preconceived notions.

People have all kinds of preconceived notions about Jesus today too. They base much of what they believe on what they already feel or WANT to believe rather than investigating the facts about Jesus. That may lead to missing out on who He really is and what Christ is all about. For example; I recently heard someone say that Jesus always went against the system—that He was a true rebel. Hogwash. The only system Jesus fought against was the system of sin. When it came to doing God’s will (the most important thing), Jesus followed the plan exactly. A little investigation would have fixed that. I also heard someone say recently that Jesus was more concerned about people’s happiness than their sin. Hogwash. Just because Jesus was so tender and merciful with people does not mean that He excused sin. He is a good Lord, make no mistake about that, but He’d rather us be holy than happy.

There are always two matters to deal with when we receive information. The first is what we already believe and the second is the truth. Often those two conflict. When it comes to Jesus and who He is, don’t let preconceived notions cause you to miss something. Investigate Him in the Holy Scriptures. I bet we’ll all be surprised to find that He was much more than a good man, a carpenter’s son, or a good teacher. He is God. He requires full commitment from us. There is neither half measure of belief when it comes to knowing Him nor any half measure of commitment. Faith in Him is not simply going to church and knowing Bible stories. Somehow, especially in America, we have some preconceived notions that Jesus is something less than God Almighty; that He allows anything less than holiness and dying to self. We had all better check ourselves and our notions. Failing here will cost far more than a gash in the foot.