Thursday, March 27, 2008

for pastors and church leaders only

Hey leaders: a quick thought for you. One of the issues we’ve struggled with over the years has been learning to celebrate “wins” (small or big) in simple ways. In our hyperspeed culture, it’s way too easy to be thinking about the next series, the next event, the next initiative, the Next Big Thing on our cosmic-sized To Do List. It’s really difficult to take time to celebrate a mission-advancement moment. Plus, in an environment where we’re super-conscious of not blowing our own horn, taking servanthood seriously and not believing our own press, we can slip into an odd “celebration-adverse culture” inadvertently.

After the dust settled last weekend (a self-guided prayer journey through the soon-to-be-opened Healing Center from 3-to-6:30pm Friday, a 7pm Good Friday observance, and six weekend celebrations on Saturday and Sunday), we didn’t want to lose the recognition of God’s presence at all of this as well as let people who missed the events on Good Friday know that God was here…and good things happened in their church. We sent out a personal email (that’s not an oxymoron, is it?) to our all-church email list that allowed me to run through the events in a way that celebrated what God did.

The response to that email was fantastic; it fosters a sense of community and a “we’re-all-in-this-together” vibe. Think of seeing a comedy movie in a packed theater full of strangers who feel the seeds of community when we all laugh at the same thing (“You laugh at that, too…?”). That’s the beginning of “belonging-ness”. How much more should that be happening with us who are connected via rebirth to the Spirit of Christ?

Anyway, it’s a simple idea to celebrate a common experience with God. Try it on your own folks (your small group, your ministry area, your project team at work, even your own family) and don’t miss opportunities to celebrate a vision-enhancement experience.

Want a sample? Here’s the email we sent out…


-----Original Message-----
From: Dave Workman
Sent: Wed, 26 Mar 2008 5:36 pm
Subject: An email from Dave Workman

Hello Vineyard family!

I’m still buzzing after this past weekend! Who would have thought so many hearts would be touched in all six celebrations? I just wanted to send you a quick update and not miss the opportunity to celebrate with you.

It started on Good Friday afternoon with an open house and self-guided prayer tour of the Healing Center. I wish everyone at VCC could have been there—it was incredibly moving. There were ten stations that each had a beautiful poster with an “imagine”-type statement on it and several specific ideas for prayer. You could sense the power of the Holy Spirit—from the children’s play area to the assessment rooms—or the food and clothing areas to the auditorium where LaVina will meet—or the prayer rooms and sanctuary to the Growth & Healing classrooms. I met some people who said it was the most emotional and spiritual experience they’ve had at the Vineyard!

And then came the Good Friday Observance in the main auditorium. Wow! After Joe Boyd introduced the evening as a somber reflection on the cross, we took a vow of silence and were led by words on the screens. Charlie Hines put together a small string orchestra that played hymns and classical pieces but were shielded from sight so that the total focus was on the cross. At one point the words instructed us to bring the cross from the back of the room to the front and that no one had been preselected to do this. Suddenly, dozens of people got up and carried the huge rough-hewn cross to the front with a train of people following behind, hands on each others’ shoulders. All spontaneously. I immediately started wiping the tears away. And I can’t say enough about the way communion was offered as we examined our hearts. A solid hour went by so quickly, I was sure we finished early. Powerful.

Then the Easter Celebrations began Saturday at 5pm. The theme was simple: a retelling of the road to Emmaus story in Luke 24 and how Jesus discloses Himself. The response to a very straight-forward invitation was overwhelming. I’m never sure what to expect, but I was surprised at the crowd of people who came forward. When I think of how my own life changed on Easter way back in 1974, my heart beats a little faster for what God has in mind for each one that responded. I wish you could have seen their faces from my vantage point—tears, anticipation, nervousness, smiles and wonderment.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for inviting others and being so open-hearted and willing to shift your regular celebration time to make room for others! For many, many people, this is the beginning of the abundant life. I can’t wait to go through the Road Trip series together over the next six weeks and watch how Jesus reveals Himself to us.

Celebrating with you,

ps: For those of you who are counting, I’m told over 9800 people (including Good Friday evening) came through the auditorium doors, and about 370 people surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ. Now that’s a Resurrection Sunday!

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Here comes Easter.

The story is simple…but cosmic in scope and as deep as you can handle. Here are the CliffsNotes:

We’re all screwed up, we all need help, we have a disease that’s worse than cancer, worse than AIDS, because it’s a disease of the soul with eternally terminal consequences. We inherited it, it’s spiritually genetic, we wallow in it and we’re dying. It’s our sin-nature. We’re in a deep, deep hole. And if we’re honest, we feel very, very far from God. So God climbs in the hole with us, becomes one of us, takes our collective disease upon Himself, and dies. In the hole.

Back in the day, Jesus’s management team was dumbstruck at this part of the story. Even worse, they’re down one: a team member had turned Him in, decided life sucked, and pulled the plug on himself. That’ll rock staff morale. The eleven guys left had thought Jesus was The One. Remember the disillusionment in The Matrix?—try it on in real life. With a real Cypher.

They had seen Jesus do some fantastic things. But this is the worst of the worst, with persecution within and without, by the religious leaders and the Roman government. They are scared spitless.

But three days later—to prove He’s The One and to show He’s victorious even over death, that nothing can stop Him—Jesus comes back to life. Fifty days later the Holy Spirit is poured out on everyone as promised by the prophets hundreds of years earlier and by Jesus Himself. This rag-tag group of skittish, fearful Jews hiding behind locked doors is transformed into men and women who would lay their lives down by the thousands because of the life-change experienced as a result of the resurrection. That new life is given to anyone who would trust Jesus to take their disease from them.

Even up to today. Or as Peter put it, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off…”. That’s why it’s called the “gospel”…the good news.

And that’s pretty much the whole message.

Happy Easter.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

the price is right

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?”

I’ve heard that verse used as a case for planning. Or strategic thinking. Yeah, right.

Sometimes Jesus said things that take my breath away. While Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris argue for the lack of evidence for God’s existence, Jesus lays his cards on the table and makes us gasp for truth. The demands that Jesus makes for followership seem so, well, demanding. They’re the kind of demands that only God or a crazy person would ask (think Waco…). And he said things that were so beautiful, comprehensive and irreligious that they don’t reflect the rants of the hardnosed “holiness separatist” preacher.

But this seems out of control. And by the way, don’t you think his disciples spent a lot of time doing damage control?—as in “Did Jesus really mean…?” Talk about thinning out the crowds. Jesus could say things that would make a church-growth consultant wet his pants.

Here’s that verse in context:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” Luke 14:25-34 (New International Version)

Whoa. I think only God can say stuff like that. Does any man deserve that kind of allegiance…especially a man that says the Shema is the greatest commandment of all (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart…” Deuteronomy 6:5)? He’s not that wacked out. It seems like a clear warning: if you start down this road and turn back, it’s pretty difficult to get authentically zealous again.

Fact is, there is always a cost to following Jesus. For several reasons. But a primary one is that expressing both the transformation of your own life and the Lordship of Jesus as savior and ruler of the New Kingdom that is “now and not yet”—which is really what the “e-word” is all about—will cost you dearly.

But the payoff is spectacular.

This weekend I mentioned a woman named Hazel Ryckman. She came to Zagun, Nigeria (where we drilled our first borehole) in the early 1920’s to bring the Good News of Jesus to the Rukuba tribe, both in word and deed, eventually starting a small clinic and school. But she would have been only about twenty-five years old. A twenty-five year old single girl. I can only imagine how remote that was. And it’s only a few years older than my daughter Rachel. No email. No cell phones. Practically incommunicado. What causes a young girl to risk that?

I was stunned when I tracked down two of her letters in a rare books store in Connecticut that happened to specialize in books from Sub-Saharan Africa. In her letter of February 2, 1925, she said: “…(May) God burden your hearts for the Rukubas, is my prayer. In every direction thousands are dying in their sins. Four Christians in a whole tribe of about thirty thousand…”. There is clearly discouragement if you read between the lines.

Maybe we’re one of the results of that prayer. Today there are over 200,000 in the tribe…and many have come to Christ. Many more as the water (and Water) of life comes to each village.

But it was extremely costly for Hazel. She ended up staying there for over forty years…and apparently never married.

Think about Mother Teresa’s recently revealed correspondence to her superior; there were many, many years of discouragement in sensing God’s presence. How could the overwhelming poverty of India not have a burdensome effect? Apparently it was a long dark night of the soul for her.

There is a cost to following Jesus…at every level. Paul writes depressingly at one point: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” 2 Corinthians 1:8 (New International Version). That sounds exceptionally disheartening.

There will always be a cost with the e-word.

But I wonder what Hazel’s reward is now? She died in 1985 in Florida. I would imagine that anyone who gives their whole life to the advancement of the Kingdom probably doesn’t really care that much what the reward is once they slip into the next “face-to-face-with God” dimension.

Maybe. But I don’t want to miss it.

Besides, I want to meet Hazel. She got this whole thing started…when she was just a sold-out twenty-something.

I’m sure the price is right.