BACK TO THE BUILDING!

Six years ago we did something that must have left many of my ministry friends scratching their heads. After spending ten years planning, building and paying off a new church centre … we walked away from it. And the reason? Well the reason is well documented in my blogging at the time but basically we came to the conclusion that the future for the church of Jesus in general was for it to get back to ‘how it was in the beginning’. Back to when the Holy Spirit breathed on the fledgling church and something unique sprung into view – an organic community that was fresh and simple and had in it the seeds for  growth and revival. There were no buildings, programs, hierarchical structures, distinctive church names or advertising gimmicks – just believers around a meal table sharing their lives in Christ.

Six years ago we were attracted by a vision to recapture that simplicity and, although we can’t say we are there yet (because it involves more than leaving a building), we know we did the right thing and aren’t looking back. However, following the vision did leave us with an interesting dilemma. What does a house church do with a building?

Well it actually didn’t turn out to be much of a dilemma since, as it turned out, there were many with a different vision that were happy to use it. In fact over the ensuing years four other churches, the local bridge club and our own successful playground were happy to call it home. And while they did so we wrestled with our own longer-term vision for the building.

And the result of our wrestling? We’re going back!

Let me explain …

When we stepped out of old style church I also stepped out of paid ministry, meaning I now needed a job. After various short time jobs, including driving a bread van and early morning cleaning the local Sailing Club, I was eventually snapped up by the local Salvation Army to manage their Red Shield Family Store (Op Shop). And although it turned out to be a God thing, re-employing my natural skills and putting me in touch with the community in a way that I never was before, the down side was that I inherited a shop building that was awkward, hot and very un-inviting. It didn’t take long before I knew we needed another building. And … well yes, you guessed it. After searching all over town for a more suitable place I found the keys to the perfect building hanging up in our kitchen.

And last week, after some months of arm-wrestling with beaurocracy and a couple of weeks of transforming a sparsely used meeting place into a potentially week-long meeting place, we moved back to the building! We now have the classiest looking Op Shop in town in a building that you would swear was designed exactly for that purpose.

Plus, we now have triple the rental income coming in to sow into local and overseas projects, such as the school we are helping Lhoy and Venus Edaniol build in the Philippines.

How wonderful and surprising is our God? Who would have thought that He would lead us back into something we thought we had no further use for? Or that I’d be pleased to be going back? And I am. The Op Shop represents a great opportunity to befriend a whole level of people, both shoppers and volunteer workers, who may never have stepped into the building for a church service but who may well be lined up by God to experience his love via a different and more inviting channel.

Thank God for the Salvos! And thank God for the building!

BEYOND TITHING (2)

THE WHERE AND HOW

In my last posting on tithing I set out to show that, far from tithing being put forward in the New Testament as an example of how to give, the early Christians actually stepped up to a new way  of giving, the way of the Spirit.

No longer did they live by set routines, procedures and formulas but theylived in daily conversation with the indwelling Holy Spirit who took them past the letter of the law to the heart of the law, the heart of God.

This does not mean that we have been left with no written guidelines or instructions. The writers of the New Testament have given us some pretty clear directives concerning this ‘grace of giving’ but every one of them leads us to the Spirit to be fully ‘fleshed out’. For example we are commanded to support those who minister the word to us but are not given any instructions on ‘how’ to do that. For that we need to pray, discuss among ourselves and come up with a support method that ‘seems good to ourselves and to the Holy Spirit’.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In this article I want to look at ‘where’ our giving should be directed. Let me first of all deal with a couple of passages that have relevance to the direction of our giving but which have been, I feel, fairly misused.

ABRAHAM AND MELCHIZEDEC

Over the past fifteen years or so a teaching has taken ground that suggests Continue reading “BEYOND TITHING (2)”

BEYOND TITHING

Not a Formula but a Relationship

Phillip Walters www.backyardbelievers.com

For some time now I have wanted to tackle a practice which is such a sacred cow that to oppose it makes me feel a little like Martin Luther (just a tiny little) standing in front of the church door with a hammer in his hand.

It’s the modern practice of tithing, a practice that, while it has little or no foundation in the New Testament, stands in some churches almost alongside belief in the Trinity or the Virgin Birth. However it is my belief that it is a sacred cow that is made of much the same material as the calf that Aaron built and needs to go.

It is untouchable because much of modern church practice relies on it; and it has to go because, just as Aaron’s calf was a way of worship without relationship, tithing has become for many a similar substitute for being led by the Holy Spirit.

MY JOURNEY

Before getting into dismantling your confidence in the tithe as a thoroughly New Testament practice, let me first give you some of my own background.

Tithing for me started not long after learning to sing ‘Hear the pennies dropping …’ a ditty that I sang fervently every week in Sunday School as I struggled to untie the penny that mum had tied up in the corner of my handkerchief. My parents, though not Christians, sent me and my brothers off to the local Salvation Army and thus my Christian walk began. Thank God for the Salvos!

And, being the good evangelical mob that they were, my youth was spent imbibing everything that was necessary to being a good Christian soldier, including tithing which probably started with my first pay packet (to the dismay of my father). I believed in it and finished up practising and preaching it through most of my adult Christian life, good times and hard times, up until four years ago.

And I preached it well – and not just because my income depended upon it. I preached it from a grace aspect and with no compulsion – well, unless you call the Malachi threat of a curse ‘compulsion’ … but I’ll cover that later.

When the recent teaching about the need to tithe to the one who represents Christ to you came along I was excited and embraced that as well. We separated tithes and offerings, with tithes going for the Ministry, the equivalent of the priesthood (?), and the offering going to pay for the new Worship Centre, the equivalent of the temple (?).

Did those equivalents unsettle anyone? No? Well let’s move on.

So what happened four years ago? I think what happened was I began to be uncomfortable with the way some were interpreting the importance of the tithe and what seemed like a dread of the consequences of not having the tithe into the ‘storehouse’ on time. A week late, it seemed, could seriously dry up the flow of God’s provision and a cheque that the office girl had forgotten to post become a dam to God’s supply, even to those who walked in a lifestyle of extraordinary generosity.

So the questions started. Was God as legalistic as this? Did this at all reflect his character? Where in the New Testament do we find such fastidiousness in giving – except among the Pharisees? What about the ‘grace’ of giving? It was these questions and more that led me to take another look at the tithe, and especially as it related to New Testament practice.

And my conclusion? Continue reading “BEYOND TITHING”

The Parable of the Two Motors

This a helpful parable from Robert Fitts about the role of leaders in the local church.

ENGINE 1In every car there are two motors – one runs on gasoline and the other on electricity. The gasoline motor is huge in comparison to the electric motor; but it is the tiny little electric motor that is designed to start the gasoline motor, and the gasoline motor is designed to provide the power to move the car. As soon as the big motor engages, the little motor disengages. If it did not, it would burn out in a matter of minutes.

The apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher are servants to the Body of Christ to act as initiators (starters) to get the body functioning. Just as the starter motor disengages as soon as the big motor starts, so it is with the wise leader. If he stays engaged he will burn out, just as a starter motor would do if it did not disengage after starting the big motor.

As long as the little starter motor is trying to move the car by the power of a single battery, the car will never function as it was designed to function. It is only the 350 horsepower motor that was designed to move the car, and it is only the Body of Christ that has been designed to build up the Body unto the measure of the fulness of Christ. Only as the Body of Christ is released to minister to itself will it ever attain unto the fullness of the maturity in Christ.

Robert Fitts – The Church in the House (a Return to Simplicity) www.robertfitts.com

Is ‘two or three gathered’ church? – Frank Viola


Frank Viola on the Postchurch Perspective

Is “where two or more are gathered” a church? (unedited version)
by Frank Viola
Originally published in Christianity Today/Out of Ur in two parts.
There is a growing phenomenon in the body of Christ today. Alongside of the missional church movement, the emerging church movement, and the house church movement, there is a mode of thinking that I call “postchurch Christianity.”
The postchurch brand of Christianity is built on the premise that institutional forms of church are ineffective, unbiblical, unworkable, and in some cases, dangerous. Institutionalization is not compatible with ekklesia. So say postchurch advocates.
But the postchurch view goes further saying, “any semblance of organization whatsoever . . . any semblance of leadership … is wrong and oppressive. Church is simply when two or three believers gather together in any format. Whenever this happens, church occurs.” So the thinking goes.
Here are some examples of what you might hear a postchurch advocate say:
“Sally and I had coffee at Starbucks last week. That was church.”
“I get together with two other men once a month at Sonny’s BBQ. That’s church for us.”
“I travel a great deal and whenever I visit Christians in other cities, we’re having church together.”
“I belong to the same church that every other Christian belongs to. I live in Dallas, TX. Last week, I talked to my friend on the phone for an hour. He lives in Miami, FL. The week before I talked with a friend who lives in Portland, OR. We were having church on the phone. I belong to the same church that they do.”
“I don’t attend any Christian meetings. Not regularly anyway. I have church on the Internet. I belong to several Christian discussion groups and social networks, and that’s church for me.”
“I don’t understand how people can talk about church planting? How can a church be planted when we are already the church? I’m the church. You’re the church. So just be the church. Church happens. “
To my mind, all of the above reflects an entire redefinition of ekklesia as it is found, used, and understood in the New Testament. No first century Christian would have used “church” in this way. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with fellowshipping with Christians at Starbucks, on the phone, or through the Internet, the biblical meaning of ekklesia is something quite different.
In order to understand the Scriptural meaning of “church,” the New Testament must be understood within the framework of the biblical narrative. And it must be read and interpreted in its cultural and chronological context.
The biblical text that postchurch advocates hang a great deal of their doctrine on is Matthew 18:15-20.
Let’s look at this passage in context:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Here, Jesus is speaking of a local ekklesia. He is speaking of a local community of Christ-followers who live in the same locale. (That is what the word ekklesia meant in the New Testament. More on that later.)
The people in this ekklesia know one another. The context makes this clear. This passage has in view an excommunication meeting. Therefore, it’s a horrifying text—a text that no Christian should ever want to use. It has to do with a person who is acting in a wayward manner and refuses to stop.
When this happens, the injured person must go to the offending person in private. If the offending person refuses to reconcile, two or three others from the local ekklesia must talk to the offending person. If the offending person still refuses to stop their wayward conduct, the offending person must be disfellowshipped from the ekklesia.
Note that Jesus says that after two or three have talked with the offending person, and the person still refuses to stop what they are doing, then the news of his unrepentance must be taken “to the church.” Now think: If the two or three people are the church, then this text becomes incoherent. Jesus says that the two or three should “tell it to the church” if the offending person doesn’t repent. Consequently, the two or three cannot be the church. They are simply a part of it.
The two or three at the end of the passage are the same two or three at the beginning of it. The implication is that the two or three who went to the unrepentant person should be praying for him. And the Lord will be with them in a special way as they do. He will stand with them.
This context indicates that the ekklesia is an organic entity where a group of committed believers in a locality “bind and loose,” using the keys of the kingdom that Jesus has given to them.
Consequently, Matthew 18 is not a text where Jesus is trying to define the church for us. It’s rather a text describing the awful process of excommunication.
Having said that, I’m of the opinion that the postchurch viewpoint cannot stand up against the light of the New Testament. Let me unravel that statement and you be the judge.
THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGE TEST
New Testament scholarship agrees that the word ekklesia (translated “church”) meant a local community of people who assemble together regularly. The word was used for the Greek assembly whereby those in a city were “called forth” from their homes to meet (assemble) in the town forum to make decisions for the city. Consequently, the word also carries the flavor of every-member participation in decision-making. The Christian ekklesia is a community of people who gather together and possess a shared life in Christ.
As such, the ekklesia as used in the New Testament literature is visible, touchable, locatable, and tangible. You can visit it. You can observe it. And you can live in it.
Biblically speaking, you could not call anything an ekklesia unless it met (assembled) regularly together.
New Testament scholar Robert Banks makes this point loud and clear in his groundbreaking work of biblical scholarship entitled Paul’s Idea of Community.
THE EPISTLE TEST
The word “epistle” means letter. The NT contains twenty-one epistles. And most of them were written to local churches—ekklesias—in various cities.
Now here is a test. Those who belong to a postchurch “church” (which I also call the “phantom church” or the “ghost church”) should ask themselves a question: Can a person write a letter to my church? Can it be received by the church and read together by all of its members at the same time?
Paul of Tarsus wrote such letters to the churches he planted.
He wrote a letter to the church in Corinth, for instance.
There was an actual, physical, locatable, visit-able body of believers that met together in the home of Gaius. Paul could write a letter to that church and everyone read it at the same time.
Paul did the same for the church in Thessalonica, Colosee, Philippi, Laodicea, etc.
And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it to be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.” (Col. 4:16)
THE VISITATION TEST
Can you visit a postchurch “church”?
If you were living in the first-century, you could literally visit any of the churches that existed.
You could also visit the church in Jerusalem in A.D. 35 and meet Peter, James, John and Mary, the mother of Jesus. These were real people who met together regularly. They were part of the same believing community—the same church.
You could visit the church in Corinth and sit in a living room in Gaius’ home and talk with Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus.
The house of Chloe could visit the church in Corinth and attend its meetings (1 Cor. 1:11).
If you were to visit the church in Rome before Nero annihilated it in A.D. 65, you could sit in the living room of Priscilla and Aquila’s home and meet all the believers who regularly assembled together. (Their names are mentioned in Romans 16.)
Paul could also send Timothy to visit the church in Philippi where Lydia, Euodias, Syntyche, and Clement gathered. He could send Titus to visit the churches on the island of Crete. He could also send Tychicus to visit the church in Ephesus. And on and on.
Question: You who belong to the postchurch “church,” does your church pass the visitation test?
If someone comes to your town, can they locate and visit your church? Can they meet the members and stay in their home for a week?
THE NARRATIVE READING TEST
I would like to challenge you to go through your New Testament very carefully, beginning with the book of Acts, and try to find in the whole sweeping story support for the postchurch “church.” Not by proof-texting verses together, but by looking at the entire first-century narrative in chronological order.
I suggest picking up The Chronological Study Bible or The Narrated Bible and go through the New Testament story in chronological order from Acts to Revelation. And see if the postchurch view can fit into that beautiful saga.
THE CONSISTENCY TEST
Three common critiques that postchurch advocates level against the institutional form of church are:
1) It breeds low commitment.
2) It feeds the consumerist, individualistic Christianity that plagues the Western church today. (In consumer Christianity, religious teachings and experiences are goods that one “buys into” by becoming a subscriber to a particular church that “sells” those goods. Religious professionals produce these religious goods, and consumers pay to keep them in business. Those who consume the same sort of religious goods are no more members of a real community than those who shop at Walmart.)
3) It produces little transformation in the lives of the people who are part of it.
Ironically, these same three critiques can be appropriately leveled at the postchurch “church.”
The postchurch breeds low commitment because there are no regular gatherings nor is there any real community life that’s consistent. (Talking to Christians on the Internent is virtual. It’s not a substitute for authentic Christian community where people’s lives are shared in Christ.)
The postchurch view also reflects the consumerist, individualism that reflects our culture. Why? Because there’s no devotion or commitment to a regular community of believers. It’s church on your own terms. Whenever you feel like it.
The truth is, the postchurch “church” is actually more convenient and easier on the flesh than virtually every other form of church.
THE “ONE-ANOTHERING” TEST
Throughout the New Testament epistles, there are nearly sixty “one another” exhortations given to churches. All of them imply close-knit community, such as “forbear with one another.” Here are some others:
• live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16; 1 Peter 3:8)
• be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10)
• edify one another (Rom. 14:19; 1 Thess. 5:11b)
• care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)
• serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
• bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
• bear with one another (Eph. 4:2)
• be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph. 4:32)
• speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
(Eph. 5:19)
• submit to one another (Eph. 5:21)
• forgive one another (Col. 3:13)
• teach one another (Col. 3:16)
• admonish one another (Col. 3:16)
These “one another” imperatives assume ever-deepening relationships and community, not casual and occasional get togethers.
THE PURPOSE OF GOD TEST
In my book, From Eternity to Here, I’ve sought to trace God’s “eternal purpose” from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.
The New Testament makes abundantly clear that the eternal purpose of God is intensely corporate. God isn’t after a group of individual living stones, He wants those stones to be “built together” to form a house for His full-dwelling and expression.
You are not the church. And neither am I.
The church is the corporate expression of Christ that is expressed visibly in a locality, where human beings can see, touch, hear, and know one another and live a shared life together in the Lord.
While God never seeks to take away our individuality, He does desire to take our individualism to the cross.
Why? Because the Lord is after a bouquet of flowers, not simply a bunch of individual roses.
Consider the analogy of a father who has seven children. One Christmas day, he gives his oldest son a trumpet. He gives his youngest son a trombone. For his oldest daughter, he gives a violin. He gives another child a drum kit. Another he gives a bass. Another he gives a flute. And another he gives a piano.
Each child learns to play their instrument. The years pass, and each loves playing their individual instruments. It’s a joy to them.
Years pass by and one day the father sits down with all of his children and says, “I am so happy you have mastered your instruments. Each instrument was given to you as a free gift. And I’m glad that you have come to enjoy and treasure your gifts.
But I didn’t give you these instruments to enjoy by yourselves. I’m creating an orchestra that will produce music that this world has never heard. And I’ve invited you to be part of it. That is why I gave you these gifts.”
And so it is with our Lord. The gift of eternal life is not for ourselves. God wants an orchestra in every city. He wants a spiritual building, not a collection of individual living stones. A body, not a collection of individual limbs and appendages. He wants a corporate expression through which to reveal His glorious Son. And this requires the loss of our individualism and independence.
It seems to me that the postchurch view denigrates Christian community (at worst) or deemphasizes and redefines it (at best). For that reason alone, it fails to fulfill God’s ultimate intention and grand mission in the earth.
SUMMARY
In my personal judgment, the postchurch view fails all seven tests.
The postchurch paradigm is rooted in the attempt to practice Christianity without belonging to an identifiable community that regularly meets for worship, prayer, fellowship, mutual edification, and mutual care.
Such a concept is disconnected with what we find in the New Testament.
The first-century churches were locatable, identifiable, visit-able communities that met regularly in a particular locale. They were not amorphous entities. For this reason, Paul could write a letter to these identifiable communities (local churches) with some definite idea of who would be present to hear it (Rom. 16). He would also have a good idea of when they gathered (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 14) and the struggles they experienced in their life together (Rom. 12—14; 1 Cor. 1–8). He can visit these churches and/or send others to visit them as well. The same is true for the other apostles.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with fellowshipping with Christians on the Internet, over the phone, or meeting with friends at Starbucks. I personally love doing these things. (And for some folks who have been hurt in their Christian life, this sort of casual fellowship is a good form of temporary “detox.”) But calling these activities “church” or substituting them for ekklesia is misguided in my opinion.
It is my observation that many (not all) who embrace the postchurch viewpoint have been hurt in churches that had organization, so they have concluded that any organization is bad. Consequently, the viewpoint seems to have been born out of personal pain rather than a revelation of Christ and His Body.
To put a finer point on it, the postchurch paradigm appears to be an expression of the contemporary desire for intimacy without commitment. (Commitment and devotion to a body of believers are the same thing.) And commitment/devotion often brings injured feelings. This is especially true in Christian community, where very fallen people are learning Christ together.
So it seems to me anyway.
*For further reading, see Pagan Christianity for a biblical and historical critique on the institutional form of church and Reimagining Church for a presentation of the organic expression of the church.
—Frank Viola is the author of numerous books on the deeper Christian life and church reform, including From Eternity to Here. For more, visit http://www.FrankViola.com.

I’m reprinting the following excellent article by Frank Viola because I hope it’s going to help me get back on track after a slight diversion.

Is “where two or more are gathered” a church? (unedited version) by Frank Viola

Originally published in Christianity Today/Out of Ur in two parts.

coffee_cup_289624aThere is a growing phenomenon in the body of Christ today. Alongside of the missional church movement, the emerging church movement, and the house church movement, there is a mode of thinking that I call “postchurch Christianity.”

The postchurch brand of Christianity is built on the premise that institutional forms of church are ineffective, unbiblical, unworkable, and in some cases, dangerous. Institutionalization is not compatible with ekklesia. So say postchurch advocates.

But the postchurch view goes further saying, “any semblance of organization whatsoever . . . any semblance of leadership … is wrong and oppressive. Church is simply when two or three believers gather together in any format. Whenever this happens, church occurs.” So the thinking goes.

Here are some examples of what you might hear a postchurch advocate say: Continue reading “Is ‘two or three gathered’ church? – Frank Viola”

GOODBYE PASTOR PHIL

Rev Phil badgeWhen I first began as a Prison Fellowship chaplain out at Capricornia Correctional Centre I was issued with a name badge, reading Rev Phil Walters. Being a bit embarrassed by the ‘Rev’ tag – I was neither officially nor in character ‘Reverend’ – I covered it up and ordered a new badge, more appropriately reading ‘Pastor’ Phil Walters. However, having mislaid that badge, I now need to order a new one. Which brings me to a slight dilemma. Because I have come to a stage, with all my recent questionings of modern church practice, where I’m not comfortable with any titles, be they Pope or Pastor.

I must say that I have never really been comfortable being called ‘Pastor’. Perhaps it is because I’ve always struggled with the clergy/laity thing, which is an awful division that developed in the church very early on, creating a false old-covenant style division between the professional ordained elite and all the rest. A hierarchical model of leadership which is foreign to the New Testament.

Jesus made it clear that we are not to get hung up on titles. Surely this was his intention when he said

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. Matthew 23:810

I suspect that he knew very well our propensity to exchange the lower-case ‘function’ for an upper-case ‘office’ complete with title. So that someone who pastors become Pastor Someone. Then Senior Pastor Someone. Or Associate Pastor or Youth Pastor or Worship Pastor etc etc. The church is full of it. Apostle This, Bishop That, Most Reverend The  Other.

Where is such use of titles in the New Testament? Did Apostle Paul write to the Corinthians and tell them he was sending Pastor Timothy and Youth Pastor Titus to catch up with Senior Pastor Aquilla and Associate Pastor Priscilla? It’s a nonsense. And it perpetuates an unhealthy divide. Nowhere in the New Testament are people addressed by their functions in that kind of a way.

Of course the excuse we make is that it is a way of ‘honouring’ our leaders. But if we need a title in order to be honoured surely something is wrong. Should I not be honoured for what I am regardless of title? My son-in-law is a much respected and sort after plumber but we don’t need to call him Plumber Dennis. Why should he not be ‘honoured’ in similar vein to how we ‘honour’ pastors? Is his profession less honourable?

Pastor Only Parking2On the contrary I can hide behind a title, use it as a smoke screen to hide my insecurities or the flaws in my character, even pull the old ” Do not speak against the Man of God” thing.

No, no. The people I serve, in whatever function I have been called, are my friends and my fellow companions in the work of the Kingdom. This was Paul’s attitude to those around him and it should be mine. They knew him simply as Paul (or at the most ‘brother Paul’, a term he uses for Peter as well) and so I should be known simple as Phil.

So goodbye ‘Pastor’ Phil. And hello Phil, a pastor … and a father, husband, lover,  prison chaplain, events person, radio presenter, blogger, brother in Christ and friend of all, etc etc.

(Thank you Jon Zens for the photo, from his latest book A Church Building Every Half Mile)

The Rick Warren Interview

Rick WarrenThe following is from an excellent interview with Rick Warren, ‘Purpose Driven Life ‘ author and pastor of Saddleback Church in California. In the interview, with Paul Bradshaw, Warren touches on the issues of his wife’s cancer and his sudden wealth due to the popularity of the book.


People ask me, What is the purpose of life?

And I respond: In a nutshell, life is preparation for eternity. We were not made to last forever, and God wants us to be with Him in Heaven. One day my heart is going to stop, and that will be the end of my body– but not the end of me. I may live 60 to 100 years on earth, but I am going to spend trillions of years in eternity. This is the warm-up act – the dress rehearsal. God wants us to practice on earth what we will do forever in eternity.

We were made by God and for God, and until you figure that out, life isn’t going to make sense. Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you’re just coming out of one, or you’re getting ready to go into another one. The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort; God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy. We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that’s not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness.

This past year has been the greatest year of my life but also the toughest, with my wife, Kay, getting cancer.

I used to think that life was hills and valleys – you go through a dark time, then you go to the mountaintop, back and forth. I don’t believe that anymore.

Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it’s kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life. No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.

You can focus on your purposes, or you can focus on your problems: If you focus on your problems, you’re going into self-centeredness, which is my problem, my issues, my pain.’ But one of the easiest ways to get rid of pain is to get your focus off yourself and onto God and others.

We discovered quickly that in spite of the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people, God was not going to heal Kay or make it easy for her- It has been very difficult for her, and yet God has strengthened her character, given her a ministry of helping other people, given her a testimony, drawn her closer to Him and to people.

You have to learn to deal with both the good and the bad of life.

Actually, sometimes learning to deal with the good is harder. For instance, this past year, all of a sudden, when the book sold 15 million copies, it made me instantly very wealthy. It also brought a lot of notoriety that I had never had to deal with before. I don’t think God gives you money or notoriety for your own ego or for you to live a life of ease.

So I began to ask God what He wanted me to do with this money, notoriety and influence. He gave me two different passages that helped me decide what to do, II Corinthians 9 and Psalm 72.

First, in spite of all the money coming in, we would not change our lifestyle one bit.. We made no major purchases.

Second, about midway through last year, I stopped taking a salary from the church.

Third, we set up foundations to fund an initiative we call The Peace Plan to plant churches, equip leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick, and educate the next generation.

Fourth, I added up all that the church had paid me in the 24 years since I started the church, and I gave it all back. It was liberating to be able to serve God for free.

We need to ask ourselves: Am I going to live for possessions? Popularity? Am I going to be driven by pressures? Guilt? Bitterness? Materialism? Or am I going to be driven by God’s purposes (for my life)?

When I get up in the morning, I sit on the side of my bed and say, God, if I don’t get anything else done today, I want to know You more and love You better.. God didn’t put me on earth just to fulfil a to-do list. He’s more interested in what I am than what I do.

That’s why we’re called human beings, not human doings.

Happy moments, PRAISE GOD.
Difficult moments, SEEK GOD.
Quiet moments, WORSHIP GOD.
Painful moments, TRUST GOD.
Every moment, THANK GOD.