Tuesday, May 29, 2007

walk on

Here's a picture of some of the folks who took part in the Memorial Day Hunger Walk. Thanks, everyone, for your time and leg muscles. We'll know in a few weeks how much food we get credited; at 140 pounds of food for MercyWorks for each runner, I would say we scored!
Great fun for a great cause. It was awesome being with you all...I can't wait to see next year's turnout.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Many years ago when I read Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, I wasn’t sure I should like it. It felt subversive. The biggest part of those feelings was due to my quickly changing paradigm at that time: after coming out of an anti-authority, counter-culture movement and being thrown into the evangelical church subculture, I wasn’t sure what politics and social philosophies I was supposed to subscribe to. I was a far left fish tossed in a far right stream. Thankfully, Jesus catches and cleans all kinds…and the total surrender He calls us to can’t be labeled and polled.

As time crept along, I had questions that buzzed me, like: why can’t the Church be known for it’s humility and servanthood and yet have a prophetic voice in the culture? Doesn’t a call to follow Jesus demand a response to the poor? Are classic evangelism and social justice mutually exclusive? Does the Good News that lifted me out of a lonely, drugged and spiritually lost state have something to say about racism, economic oppression and systemic injustice? It did and does.

Evangelical thinkers and writers like Ron Sider sounded the call to move beyond categorized political labels and simply do the right thing…or dare I say: do what Jesus would do.

After the message this weekend, I wanted to offer some of the practical—and that doesn’t mean “non-spiritual”—ways we can take part in changing our world. First and foremost, go to VCC’s website to the MercyWorks page at https://www.vineyardcincinnati.com/vcc.php?id=68. If you haven’t been to this page lately, you’ll be shocked at the number of opportunities. For many, many years God has had us getting hands-on with the needs of the marginalized and under-resourced. MercyWorks, Growth and Healing Ministries and our Prayer Ministries offer a variety of services, like simple basic help with free food and clothes (over 10 tons of food goes out every month), financial counseling, mentoring and tutoring, an auto donations and clinic, assessments, job coaching, jail ministry, mentoring and tutoring programs, literacy tutoring, Divorce & Beyond, and more. It includes organizations outside of ours, like our partnership with Big Brothers/Sisters http://www.bigsforkids.org/.

Last Thursday we officially purchased the 106,000 square feet warehouse in which we’ll build the Healing Center: Help for the Whole Person. The number of volunteers that will be needed to serve our city with the Center will be huge. Begin praying now for what God might have you do with the HC. Or come serve for a couple of hours at MercyWorks to get a taste of what’s coming.
Other VCC ministries take God’s grace beyond our walls, like the Good Sam runs each Saturday morning and volunteers who drive and pick up folks from shelters to bring them to the Saturday night celebrations.

Or you could pick up a yellow bag by the exit doors and fill it up with the items listed on it and bring it back the following weekend. That simply saves us money from the MercyWorks fund and enables us to feed and care for more people. Demographics are shifting rapidly; NPR recently reported that according to the last census, there are now more people living below the poverty level in suburbs than in the cities.

Check out our friends at the One City Foundation at www.onecity.org/. Whiz Kids is a simple program to offer tutoring for at-risk kids.

If you want to expand your view and learn more about global poverty and the AIDS epidemic, go to http://www.one.org/

Of course, grab a copy of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger or Just Generosity. It might rock your world.

And join the revolution.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


This past weekend I talked about three tests that I believe Peter describes in his first letter. Actually, I think the entire Bible consistently brings up these three: the Faith Test (can God be trusted?), the Character Test (can I be trusted?) and the Willing Heart Test (am I willing to change?).

For me, this idea of God testing us is a little nerve-wracking; I hated tests in school…the clammy feeling in your hands, the sound of the clock ticking, wondering if everyone else is ahead of you, and the sinking feeling that you studied the wrong things. Ouch.

I mentioned that even those who have no concept of God often have a grid for the idea of testing—usually saying it’s “character development”, as in: whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

But the philosopher in me would respond to the agnostic view with “why?” For whom is character being developed? If this is all there is to life—we are born, we breathe, we die—for what purpose is character being developed? Simply to live in some reasonable social order to avoid pain with other human beings that live and breathe and die in a short span as well?

That always brings me back to: it seems to me that if there are tests, there is a Tester…Someone who officiates the giving of tests for a purpose. In school, the purpose of a test is to ensure that the pupil has a grasp of the knowledge the teacher deems important. It’s assumed that having that knowledge will help the student handle the next level of living in order to ultimately function as an adult. It is purposeful.

And that’s why I believe God—the Ultimate Teacher—tests us. Testing tackles three questions, the first being: What is God’s will for me? The simplest and most straightforward answer is to make me like Jesus. We had a saying around here years ago: come as you are, you’ll be loved. That accurately expresses the heart of God. But when we come as we are to Jesus, I can almost guarantee that we won’t stay the same—we’ll change.

I quoted Rabbi Workmanstein: “God’s compassion draws us to Him as we are; His holiness demands that we change.”

There is no real tension between mercy (“come as you are”) and holiness (“you must change”) if we see them both as prescriptive for wholeness. God will make us into “little Christs”, replicas of His Son. That’s His business. But that raises another question: Why?

Perhaps there are two reasons. First, so He and I can deeply enjoy each other. The more He cleans me up—that is, in motives and heart—the closer I can get to Him, allowing a greater mutual enjoyment of all that He is. Second, so I can be used for His purposes. Each of us is a tool for God to accomplish His work.

Those two elements are actually a picture of marriage: a fulfilling, intimate relationship…with a mission to accomplish (to provide a working metaphor of the unconditional love God has for His church). I like thinking that my marriage has a mission that I am responsible for.

Which then brings me to another (and last) question: What’s God’s method to accomplish this?—Tests.

God spoke through the prophet Zechariah and said that He will “refine (His people) as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are My people,' and they will say, 'The Lord is my God.'" (Zechariah 13:9 New American Standard). Another time He reminded Jeremiah "I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind..." (Jeremiah 17:10a New American Standard).

When Abraham took his son Isaac upon the mountain to plunge a knife through Isaac’s—the child of the promise—breastbone, God never wanted a human sacrifice. That’s abominable. But Abraham did what God said. With his hand poised in the air ready to kill, God calls out “Abraham! Don’t stretch out your hand against the boy. Now I know that you’re obedient…” Did God limit His foreknowledge of what Abraham would do? That’s a theological discussion for another time (I’m personally not an open theism advocate).

But I can bet that Abraham knew now how far he would go to walk with his God. Abraham passed his test.

And believe me, from time to time we all have our Isaacs.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


I’m writing this morning on a plane heading to L.A. for a Vineyard pastors conference. But I’m thinking less about that and more about what happened this weekend: the baptisms get me every time.

You’d think I’d be over this after all these years.
There is a group of us pastors and leaders who stand behind the door and cheer when people exit after being baptized, high-fiving them as they come out. It’s a party. And the looks on their faces are priceless; some are beaming, some are sobbing, some are simply in shock, some don’t know how to process what just happened.

I call baptism efficacious symbolism. But even that can cause arguments in certain circles. In the early church, baptism appeared to be one-and-the-same with the decision to follow Jesus as Lord. But disagreements quickly rose in the church—along with splits—as to whether the water needed to be moving or still, whether the person was to go face forward or backward and not to mention pouring as opposed to dunking. The Didache was a collection of church instructions and practices (some very interesting) written within one hundred years after the resurrection. Regarding baptism, it reads:

Baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in running water. But if thou hast not running water, baptize in other water. And if thou canst not in cold, then in warm. But if thou hast neither, pour water three times upon the head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Didache 7:1).

Though we don’t baptize infants at VCC, there is a case to be made regarding the place of children in Biblical covenants and how that relates to baptism, though I think it gets a bit complicated based on the few examples of baptism in Acts. And I’m certainly no Biblical scholar, but Greek teachers say it’s hard to take a definitive immersion stance on the word baptizo. It certainly means whelmed, or to make fully wet or stained. It can be used to mean dip or to wash as well, as in the Pharisees getting upset with Jesus in Luke 11:38 because he didn’t wash—baptizo—before the meal.

Anyway, it’s not worth the argument, in my book. I personally lean into the death, burial and resurrection picture that our method of baptism presents…and we have to land somewhere as a practice. But the methodology is not doctrine to me. Ultimately I believe it’s the sign of being born into the family of God.

One Lord, one faith, one baptism, as Paul writes.

A few people ask me why I don’t do baptisms. We believe that the person who has had the most connection and personal influence with the person coming to Christ should be the baptizer. Remember, it’s the job of pastors to equip God’s people to do the ministry, and navigating someone through their decision to follow Jesus is the ultimate ministry.

One other thing. We don’t really know what to call these weekends. We’ve defaulted to Baptism Weekend. How original is that? Pretty lame, I’d say. Especially for something as cool as it is. People have suggested Wet ‘n Wild, Dunkapalooza, and so on. I don’t know; how do you name something that’s fun, electric, and yet deeply meaningful and significant?

I’ll buy a lunch for anyone who can come up with the ultimate title. A free lunch. I’ll have our Celebrations gang pick the best one.

Er, assuming we get something we can actually use.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16

What does it mean to be holy? In what context have you sensed the holiness of God…and how did you respond?

In the next couple of weeks in this Peculiar People series, I want to tackle what it means to be holy...and what it's like to experience the holiness of God. There have been a few times for me, some very personal, but at times corporately as well.

Years ago I was at a large conference of believers. During the worship everyone began singing in the Spirit, or in tongues. Some musicologists believe that Gregorian chants have their roots in that practice. It makes me wonder; the commonalities certainly seem obvious. Hearing a massive group of people singing in different languages, in pitch, and go from a rise in cadence to a hushed awe—with no worship leader—had an amazing effect on me. It felt, well, holy.

Another time was in a meeting with someone who had a profound prophetic gift. He was prophesying over people, and reading their mail, as we used to say. Shaking his hand, I felt unnerved, uncovered, as if he could peer into my soul. It was particularly my sins of omission—my inward focus—that I feared would be exposed. Very strange. He was a kind man, though; there was no abuse of the gift. But to some degree I can only imagine how the disciples must have felt; several times the gospels note that “Jesus knew what they were thinking.” And remember: Jesus was untainted, filled with the Spirit without limit, as scripture says.

In another setting I was in a meeting where Dick Eastman spoke; it was shortly after his book on prayer came out: The Hour That Changes the World. I remember going forward for prayer and as he got near me my legs buckled; it was as if someone turned a switch off on my body. I was suddenly laying on my back facing the ceiling, not sure what happened. But there was a sense of being in a holy place, as if Power had stepped into the room. Fascinating.

What’s your story?

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5 (New International Version)

While he was speaking, I fainted and lay there with my face to the ground. But Gabriel roused me with a touch and helped me to my feet. Daniel 8:18 (New Living Translation)

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah 6:1-5 (New International Version)