Pastor's Blog

Waiting and Moving with God in 2019

Advent represents a time of both waiting and moving. In the first Advent of Christ, a long period of waiting and anticipation was drawing to a close. Another period of waiting, extending from the Ascension to the second Advent of Christ, was just beginning. However, the events surrounding the Incarnation bustled with activity and movement. Only believers moved by the Spirit of God saw what was happening in those days. Many others unfortunately did not have eyes to see and kept waiting during a time when they should have been moving.

In the nativity narrative of the Gospels, we see micro-stories about waiting and moving. Zechariah was a perfect example, and thankfully, a man to whom the Lord was gracious in the waiting and moving of his day. He had waited a long time—both as a leader for the hope of Israel and as a husband to a barren wife. When God called him into a time of movement, it was extraordinary, bewildering, and mixed with doses of hope and doubt. Zechariah was not at first ready to move with God, for which God’s angel temporarily chastised him. Later, Zechariah believed, saw, and moved with God’s program of blessing.

Then, there are Mary and Joseph. Unlike Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, this young couple was only betrothed, had barely entered adulthood, and knew nothing of the kind of waiting of their relatives. They hadn’t lived and suffered long enough for the full yearning of Messiah to probably bloom into the maturity that older saints knew. They were young. Nonetheless, they were thrust into a sudden, extraordinary time of movement in the program and providence of God.

However, should we be taking our cues about the spiritual life or the life of the church from such an extraordinary moment in God’s program? Surely, it was a time clustered with miracles, authenticating this major movement in God’s program, establishing Christ as Lord and Savior. It was an unprecedented time. But what did Jesus say to his disciples before ascending? Do you remember?

“And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’” (Acts 1:4–5 ESV).

And again, he said to them,

“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7–8 ESV).

When we read the Lord’s words here and then follow the acts of the Spirit through the apostles, we see a church on the move. Waiting is the exception; moving is the rule. We see them waiting and praying for Peter’s release from prison, but the large proportion of the narrative records the movement of the missionary apostles going from place to place, evangelizing, teaching, establishing leaders, planting churches, gathering with others for briefings, and then heading back out into the work, strengthening established churches, planting new ones in new places.

It’s not that the church stopped waiting. Indeed, they kept waiting for the Lord’s second Advent, as we do still today. But as they waited for that extraordinary, unprecedented time of the second Advent of Christ, they moved. The Spirit’s vision through the movement of the apostles was not a church that settled and borough-ed in like the centralized temple and worship of Jerusalem. Rather, the Spirit’s aim is a decentralized people, equipped for ministry, moving locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Just like our physical bodies, the spiritual Body, the church, is only healthy when it’s mobile.

Everything that moves needs a strong core or a strong frame. A car has frame; physician’s and physical trainers talk about “core health.” What’s the core or the frame of a local church? At West Lisbon, we say the core is “Christ in us.” What we mean by that is the Spirit’s vision as recorded in Scripture for his people and his church to be conformed to the image of Christ. We want our heads, hearts, hands, feet, loving, learning, and laboring to be filled up with the fulness of Christ. We are praying for the Spirit to form in us a permanent, enlarging habitat for Christ to dwell by faith. With God’s help, West Lisbon is on the move in 2019.

Posted by Rex Howe

Blog Post from Guest Contributor: Elise Tollefson Johnson

In light of the recent chaos and turmoil in Washington during the Kavanaugh hearings, I asked one of our own to share her thoughts on the matter. Elise Tollefson Johnson is a Lisbon-Lion-hearted-and-Newark-Norsemen-graduate. She now works in Washington D.C. as a Legislative Director in the U.S. House of Representatives. She knows and loves our country, our God, and us. I particularly think the Kavanaugh situation speaks not only to “the state of the Union” but also to the state of adolescence in the harvest of the sexual revolution in America. Elise has kindly provided her perspective on these two matters in her following contribution to the West Lisbon blog:

The Kavanaugh confirmation process has been messy, it’s triggered visceral, emotional, partisan responses from participants and spectators, and it’s shed a lot of light on the political and cultural challenges the United States is facing right now.

Partisanship in American politics – when both sides refuse to compromise or empathize with an opponent they consider an enemy – is causing gridlock in government at best and rot in our political institutions on a global stage at worst. Brett Kavanaugh, a D.C. Circuit Court judge and nominee for a lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court, is in the midst of his confirmation process, a responsibility given to the Senate by the U.S. Constitution. The process begins with a pretty grueling vetting process that includes questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee and culminates in a debate and vote in the full Senate. In the midst of his Judiciary Committee hearings, it was revealed that a woman wrote a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, detailing an attempted sexual assault perpetrated by Kavanaugh at a party when they were in high school. Other women came forward. Allegations range from shoving a woman against a wall after a party to participating in a group that drugged and assaulted high school girls. Republicans blame Democrats for waiting too long to release the information about the accusations, Democrats blame Republicans for rushing through the confirmation process despite the accusations. All allegations of sexual harassment and assault should be taken seriously. But, it’s undeniable that given the context of these allegations, Dr. Ford, one of the accusers, was thrown with Kavanaugh into a politically charged hearing and investigation to 1) allow Republicans to get to clear Kavanaugh’s name and confirm him, and 2) allow Democrats to completely derail Kavanaugh’s confirmation and keep a Supreme Court seat open for a less conservative judge. Ultimately, Republicans want the position of the federal government to be pro-life, Democrats want to uphold federal abortion rights, and their success or failure depends on whether Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court. They’ll do whatever it takes.

No one trusts anyone. No one knows who is telling the truth. And instead of an honest pursuit of the truth where the stakes are extremely high, Democrats are simply trying to tear down the accused and Republicans are simply trying to tear down the accuser to get the Supreme Court to uphold liberal or conservative laws, respectively. The end (partisan Supreme Court) justifies the means (making your opposing party look as out of touch, dishonest, and nasty as possible). Not surprisingly, this has serious and lasting implications for America’s “deliberative body,” a Senate that was intended to make reasoned decisions about everything from whether the United States goes to war to whom sits on the United States Supreme Court. When the Senate is full of men and women who are motivated solely by winning a majority and robbing their opponents of any success or good reputation in the process, the body doesn’t work. And when the Senate doesn’t work, its brokenness ripples across the rest of the Republic.

The United States was intended to cultivate pluralism – not a blind acceptance of all ideas but in general a peaceful tolerance of them and the people who hold them, a willingness in government to compromise or at least to walk in the shoes of a member of another party. Americans are historically divided right now, and the people they nominate and elect to the White House and Congress reflect that. There is no incentive to work together when people are motivated by the desire to tear each other apart. That’s not just bad for America, it’s lethal.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation process also shines a spotlight on America’s cultural and spiritual problems today, and both conservatives and liberals are at fault.

Again, no one knows where the truth is in all this. But Republicans’ insistence on doing whatever it takes to confirm President Trump’s nominee, even if an investigation turns up truth to his alleged past indiscretions, means that past indiscretions will continue to be unimportant and unpunishable. The behavior of Kavanaugh and his high school buddies was horribly irresponsible. They were teenagers who made drinking beer a sport often without any kind of parental supervision, and it’s completely believable that young women were disrespected in these circumstances, potentially criminally. Aside from being terribly bad for developing brains, drugs and alcohol and this culture of partying among high school kids create a breeding ground for bad decisions and hurt people. Because this behavior is so common in American high schools, it’s often met with ambivalence, “kids will be kids” and “boys will be boys.” Speaking from personal experience, sexual harassment is worse in high school hallways than it is in most workplaces, and it goes on because kids get a pass. But if young men are saying inappropriate things to their female classmates, if they’re violating them without punishment, where do they unlearn that behavior? At what point in their lives do they realize it’s wrong? Schools and parents need to shut down this sexualized, alcohol-fueled party culture among teens that produces nothing but regret, hurt, and, as we’re seeing in the Kavanaugh case, a lifetime of consequences.

On the left, we’ve had a “sexual revolution” that’s begotten all kinds of really painful problems and insufficient Band-Aid fixes. When intimacy is already okay, when it’s encouraged, outside a life-long covenant, and that worldview is lit ablaze by drugs and alcohol that rid young people of their inhibitions, it’s inevitable that people will get hurt and they’ll usually be women. Outside the intended trust and the oneness and the promise to respect your spouse’s body, the sexual revolution needed to rely on consent. No one is really sure what consent means, and there’s disagreement about how it’s given. This confusion leads to sexual assault. Its upshot is men who aren’t sure what it means to respect a woman and her body, and women who say no and aren’t taken seriously or who apprehensively engage in behavior they later regret. The left wants to make the Kavanaugh confirmation process about consent, the only remaining rule in our post-sexual revolution world. But it’s a “solution” that elicits confusion, disagreement, bad choices, and hurt that can last decades. We’re missing the mark by using Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford to have a conversation about consent. America needs to have a conversation about morality, how the best way to prevent teenagers today from making Kavanaugh- and Ford-esque decisions they’ll have to answer for later is to be really honest about the sexual revolution that created a slew of problems its supporters are trying and failing to address.

Politically and culturally, the Kavanaugh confirmation process highlights the need for young people who respect their brothers and sisters and live above the chaos our secular society has created for itself. We need teenagers who can already talk to and demonstrate why Jesus’s moral rules regarding sexuality and how we treat our neighbors is far better for the country and its health than the fast-and-loose rules we’re playing by now. We’re learning these days that decisions as big as who gets to be president or sit on the Supreme Court are profoundly affected by young people and what they believe and how they act.

Rebuilding Rhythm for the Spiritual Life

In April, our Church Council completed a year-long, devotional study of the book of Nehemiah. In total, we developed twenty-nine principles for leaders. The book of Nehemiah is typically a go-to book for biblical principles of leadership. While it is a treasure trove for that topic, I think it’s important not to miss the reason that Nehemiah’s leadership is necessary—to rebuild a rhythm for the spiritual lives of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem. Have you ever built a retaining wall? One time at a Christian camp, a team of teenagers and I accepted the challenge to construct a large retaining wall made of railroad ties for a hillside near a basketball court. It was grueling work, bringing out the best and worst in all of us. Quickly, we learned that this project wasn’t merely a physical and mental test, but also a spiritual one. Nehemiah’s wall-building project had a deeper aim than to simply build a wall. He aimed, with God’s help, to restore a regular rhythm in the spiritual lives of people. Here are five key lessons to rebuilding your spiritual rhythm.

Report of Ruin

Nehemiah 1:1–11

Have you ever received bad news? Such was the news that Nehemiah received, yet behind the gloomy report was the smile of God. This is called providence. One Bible dictionary describes providence this way,

The biblical concept of God’s providence . . . signals a universally confident belief in God’s loving care and protection of the world. It is grounded in the belief in God as Creator, one who continues at all times to preserve and order the world, holding chaos at bay, and leading the world and all human history toward life and full happiness. Sometimes through unpredictable turns . . . God’s providence can be written ‘straight with crooked lines’ . . . God’s provident presence can be manifest in both merciful care and righteous chastisement, but the biblical emphasis surely rests with the affirmation of God’s ultimate care (Freedman, David Noel. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).

Consider God’s providential provisions surrounding Nehemiah’s news: (1) he happened to have a rare job (1:11) that made him privy to royal reports, (2) a team from Judah, involving someone Nehemiah knew, arrived in Susa with a report of Jerusalem, (3) Nehemiah’s heart was soft enough to repent and to remember God’s promise, and (4) he had an audience with the king to request that something be done.

Get familiar with the background and story of Nehemiah with The Bible Project. Then, write out the current, major circumstances of your life. Can you see God’s providential fingerprints? Humbly ask God to make his providence clearer to you this week. How would your own “Report of Ruin” read?

Revival Reconnaissance

Nehemiah 2:9–20

After receiving approval from the king and favor from God to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city, Nehemiah aimed to revive the people and the work. However, he faced radical rivals — Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. These men opposed Nehemiah throughout the whole story (cf., 4:1, 3, 7; 6:1–2, 5–6, 12, 14, 17, 19; 7:62; 13:4, 7, 28). They tried to destroy his plans through violence from outside the walls and through deception inside the walls. In 2:11–16, Nehemiah took a secret, night-time ride around the entirety of the city wall. Verse 13 says, “. . . and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire.” The word “inspect” means to test or investigate with a hopeful attitude.

Look at the representation of the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day. Imagine that this represents your life. Inspect the walls of your life. Is your life whole and at peace? Or are there breaches? Gates were the places where important opportunities and decisions happened. Have you had opportunities or decisions that you feel have been “destroyed by fire”? Lastly, who are your enemies? Remember, external enemies utilize violence. Internal enemies utilize deception, lies, and schemes. Personal revival starts with an honest inspection of the conditions of our lives. Notice how the temple, the place of worship, is at the center. Just as the people in Nehemiah’s day couldn’t worship while neglected walls existed, neither can we effectively worship God while we neglect our own lives. After a thorough look at the walls, gates, and enemies of your life, remember that Nehemiah’s inspection was a hopeful one. He didn’t despair. He was real about the lousy conditions, but he was also real about his hope that God could revive the walls against all odds.

Responsive Reading

Nehemiah 8:1–12

The people showed great resolve to complete the rebuilding of the walls of the city (cf., 4:6–23). Faithful leaders were found and appointed (cf., 7:1–2). Once the work was completed, the people gathered to hear the reading of the word of God in their own city for the first time in generations. The leaders helped the people to clearly understand the word of God. The people became emotional for two reasons: (1) the clear and accurate teaching of God’s word cut into their souls with precision, like a spiritual surgeon, and (2) the atmosphere of standing within the rebuilt walls of their once destroyed city most likely created an overwhelming feeling—mixed with sadness about the past and hope for the future. Following their emotional response to God’s word, the people made decisions to obey God’s word (cf., 8:13–18) and to remember God’s faithfulness to his past promises and present protection (cf., chap. 9).

Commit to the healing of the walls of your life. To do this, you must faithfully steward the areas of the wall which God has entrusted you to rebuild. You also must have faith in God with those things that are outside of your control. Discuss and measure the impact that the word of God is having in your life. Is it cutting into you (cf., Heb. 4:12)? In what ways precisely? What kind of emotional atmospheres have you experienced with the word of God (e.g., camp, retreat, conference, prayer meeting, small group, recovery)? God providentially uses events like this to stir and awaken our hearts, but what happens after these unique experiences? Do you allow the word of God to cut into your regular rhythm of life? Discuss with a close friend the ways you are or are not creating space for the word of God as a part of your regular rhythm.

Reform Remains

Nehemiah 13:6–11, 15–21, 23

The book of Nehemiah ends in a strange and deflating way. Nehemiah left Jerusalem and reported back to the king of Persia. While he was gone, the people returned to their old way of life—(1) they flirted with the enemies of God and Jerusalem, (2) they forsook the temple and failed to worship God, (3) they forget to keep the Sabbath day holy, and (4) the men found wives who worshiped false gods, instead of the true God. Nehemiah went on a righteous rampage! The book ends with Nehemiah offering one of his many prayers—the reader can feel how tired he is—“Remember me, O my God, for good” (13:30). So what gives? What happened? Here’s the point. Don’t miss it: All the changes or reforms that we might make in life won’t truly stick unless they land on a new heart. Nehemiah was a great leader and did great work, but even he and all his efforts were not a match for the stone-cold, hardened hearts of the people. The 70 years they had spent in exile didn’t change anything. Consider the words of Jeremiah,

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9),

and Ezekiel,

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh (36:26).

Religious movements, reforms, and retreats may create experiences that cause temporary changes, but if you want permanent, enduring faith and life change, then you need a new heart from God in order to truly take in all of his amazing grace available in Christ.

How’s your heart? Is it stone cold and lifeless, or is new and alive to God? It’s as Ezekiel said—your spiritual nature is stony and must be removed, and God must give you a new spiritual nature. How does God do this? By God’s grace through your faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, your old, calloused heart may die, and a new, soft heart may resurrect within you. The New Testament uses the phrases “new creation” and “new birth” to describe this spiritual phenomenon:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn. 1:12–13).

Jesus answered him,

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3–5).

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

If you recognize your need for a new heart and are willing to put your faith in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sins, to receive the Holy Spirit, and to possess the hope of new and eternal life, then pray to God to receive Jesus Christ as the Savior and Lord of your life. Do not remain as those Stephen addressed in Acts 7:51,

You stiff-necked, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.

The Bible also teaches (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:1–3; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 5:13) that even believers with new hearts can grieve and quench the Spirit in ways that diminish the power of the new life in Christ. If you’re a believer who has grown lukewarm, lazy, and lousy in the spiritual life, resolve today to repent and recover your faith in Christ.

Regular Rhythm

Romans 8:18–39; Galatians 5:13–26

Tim Keller once described revival as . . .

. . . the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit intensified.

Ordinarily, the Holy Spirit (1) convicts of sin (Jn. 16:7–11), (2) converts to faith in Christ (1 Cor. 12:3; Acts 10:44–48), and (3) gives assurance of salvation (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). Have you ever experienced these activities of the Spirit in an unusually intense way? It’s important to realize that these are his regular rhythms too. In the Read portion of this section, we find two more important regular rhythms that the Spirit wants to work into your daily life. The first comes from Romans 8:29. The Holy Spirit aims to use your sufferings, weaknesses, circumstances, and hope to shape you into the image of Jesus Christ. Notice that prayer (v. 26) is an important way for you to participate in his aim for your life. The second comes from Galatians 5:22–23. The fruit of the Spirit’s rhythm in your life looks like these things: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here, the Spirit’s regular rhythm in your life provides the essential attributes to conform you to the image of Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:19 says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” Ephesians 4:30 teaches us not to “grieve the Holy Spirit.” In unique and rare moments, the Holy Spirit has worked in an intensified way in your life, and he aims to provide a regular rhythm that transforms you over time to look more and more like Jesus. As you participate in his regular rhythm, how will you avoid quenching the fire that the Holy Spirit started in your life? How will you avoid grieving him? Start by reading the context of the all the verses mentioned in this section. Get a handle on what God says the Holy Spirit wants to do in your life. You’ll discover things like thankfulness prevents the quenching of the Spirit, and putting off the old life and putting on the new life in specific ways prevents the grieving of the Spirit. Discuss with a believing friend the ways that you’ll participate in the Spirit’s rhythm for your life. Remember, God is providentially at work in your life. Are you up for the adventure?

Posted by Rex Howe