Thursday, September 5, 2013
The early church gives us a great model to pursue and to pray for.  I am reminded of the episode in Acts 4, where the apostles had been threatened by the local authorities, “So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:19,20) Their response expressed an intense, inner compulsion of soul to make Jesus known, “But Peter and John replied, "Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard."  It could be a family gathering, or any number of settings.  There is often an unexpressed wish among many towards the Spirit-filled Christian.  “Shhh, don’t encourage him” or he’ll start preaching; he’ll start in on his religion kick, and there will be no shutting him up.  So, don’t get him started, OK?  You see, the early apostles’ hearts were filled with awe for Jesus and His work for them; thus, there was no way they could be silent. 
Up against this is the “great Encourager” or the “great Comforter,” the Holy Spirit of God.  I was going into morning prayer meeting and one of the brothers was leaving at the same time.  After greeting one another he said to me sincerely, “Pastor, I just want you to know that your sermons do make a difference.”  He then proceeded to mention a specific message that I had preached sometime previously.  Well, that’s “music” to a preacher’s ears, not because of ego, but due to discouragement.  One of the constant battles that a pastor faces is the question, “Am I making a difference?”....“Are my sermons genuinely impacting people and instigating spiritual change”...“In the end, does it really matter?”  These are all the inner wrestlings that a man with the sacred charge to “Preach the Word” goes through. 
This reminds me of the oft-used fictitious story of spiritual warfare. It seems that the devil decided to have a garage sale.  On the day of the sale, his tools were all placed on display for public inspection, each one marked with a sales price.  There were a treacherous lot of implements from hatred, to envy, jealousy, deceit, and the other successful ones like lust, lying, pride, and so on. Set apart from the rest was a harmless-looking tool.  It was quite worn and yet priced higher than any other tools of his nefarious trade. “What is the name of this tool? asked one of the customers pointing to this plain, yet potent tool.  With a gleam in his eye, Satan replied, “Ahh, but of course, this is discouragement.  “Why have you priced it so high?”  “Because it is more useful to me than all the others.  I can pry open and get inside man’s heart with that, even when I cannot get near him with any of the other tools.  It is badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since so few people know it belongs to me.”  The devil’s price tag for discouragement was high because it is still his favorite tool, and he is still using it on God’s people.  If he were training a group of his underlings, then his advice would frequently be, “Shhh, don’t encourage him!”
One of the verses that captures for me the essence of preaching ministry is (Job 4:4)TM, “Your words have put stumbling people on their feet, put fresh hope in people about to collapse.”  Wow!  Whether it is preaching in our public worship services, various blog postings, or Twitter, they have one single aim to them (2Cor.4:2;5) “We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God... For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”  This dimension is what added intensity and urgency to Paul’s prayer in (2Thess.3:1)TM, “One more thing, friends: Pray for us.  Pray that the Master’s Word will simply take off and race through the country to a groundswell of response, just as it did among you.” 
I’ve pondered a lot of the so-called “innovation” today.  I am no stranger to or opponent of change or new things.  I believe, however, that behind a lot of the new things today lies a faltering confidence that the Word works!  If the Word doesn’t work, then what are we doing?  I take refuge in the Apostle’s decision in Acts. 6.  They were forced to make a priority decision.  There were lots of needs, and some of them were going unmet.  Prolonged or unaddressed needs can lead to dissatisfaction, which, in turn can create disorder or the discordant note of disharmony.  The apostles learned the art of delegation, but it was their reasoning that was significant.  (Acts 6:3,4) “Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” This wasn’t a move to get out of doing work, but the adage to work smarter, not harder.  Their priority mission and their passion would be prayer and the ministry of the Word.  This is where their confidence lay.
There was this little delegation that went to see the preacher. “Pastor,” the chairman said, “You need to know the congregation is not very happy with you.” The pastor said, “I’m sorry.  But why are you telling me this?”  The chairman said, “I would think it would matter to you.”  The pastor said, “It does; but not much.”  The delegation was dumbfounded.  A woman on the committee said, “Well, if you ask me, when the congregation is unhappy, the pastor is failing.”  The pastor responded, “No ma’am.  That’s based on a false assumption that a lot of churches have. You see, the Lord does not send the pastor to make the church happy.  God sends the pastor to make the church healthy–and to make HIM happy. Big, big difference.”  “You have strengthened tottering knees; your words have stood men on their feet.”  For a preacher or a writer, the power to use words (God’s) and make a lasting difference in someone’s life is the best gift in the world.  Occasionally, someone who hears a sermon, or reads this blog will send a note, “That was precisely what I needed to hear today.”  Well, that makes my day!  It overpowers those who would say, “Shhh, don’t encourage him!”
In Oral Robert’s book “The Call” he described what I’m trying to convey.  “As they sang it was like heaven’s choir had joined the singing.  I remember that I looked straight up to the top of the tent. I would not have been surprised if a shaft of light from Heaven had shone all the way from glory into this earthly place.  I started to preach, and as I did, it seemed that they reached out with their hands and pulled me into their hearts.  Every word that I said was received by them.  The place roared with amen’s and hallelujah’s.  I began to gather speed as they said amen.  When I had preached for about an hour, I felt I was losing my voice, for, as they got louder, I got louder.  Soon I stopped and said, ‘People, if you don’t stop saying amen to me, I will preach myself to death.’  They laughed and just kept saying amen.  The sermon just rolled out of me that night like rivers of living water. When I gave the invitation, 300 came to be saved, and more than a thousand came to be healed.”  Embellished?  Oh, I’m sure (editor’s do that).  But, I also know there’s nothing quite like when the wind of the Holy Spirit fills the sail of the preacher delivering God’s Word!
All of this highlights the important reality of the miracle or mystery of influence.  I’m talking about that wonderful working of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word to touch people’s lives.  This is one of the blessed streams of encouragement God uses to reinforce His servants.  Please, believe me when I say, I’m not elevating the preacher/pastor to idolatrous levels, but one of the descriptive phrases of the fruit of our Savior’s redeeming sacrifice is “He shall see the labor of his soul and be satisfied.”  We don’t always get to see directly this influence, but there are little glimpses along the way that fuel our tanks!  It serves as an incentive to want do our best with the calling, opportunities, and gifts God has entrusted us with.  I feel the “weight” of this sacred charge!
You never know where influence starts and stop, do you?  I am known all over the California State prison system. Yes, from Pelican Bay to Chino Prison to Folsom to Centinela state prison (refer to it as gladiator school since most of the inmates are under 40), to Corcoran, to Soledad state prison etc.  This is because Chaplain Bob Mecado is a supervisory chaplain for the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, giving him access to minister in all of these prison facilities and others.  He brings the Gospel of Jesus Christ inside the walls of these prisons.  He also has widely distributed preaching tapes from our church, so that prisoners there “know” and quote from Pastor Warner’s sermons! Is that awesome or what?  Our tape room or web site has a two-year moratorium on my tapes, as far as outside and widespread distribution.  The reason is that when I go and preach in some other churches in other places and countries, the tapes have not already preceded me, leaving me with nothing new or fresh to preach.  In prison, there’s a different set of rules!  They have free access to all of the tapes since I don’t have to be really concerned about prisoners or chaplains using my material, and then I have nothing to preach.  I’ve blogged before how incredibly humbling it is that prisoners in these institutions are praying for me and other church needs! Influence, but shhh, don’t encourage him!
This all was sparked with a phone call from one of the sisters in our church.  As a manager, one of her responsibilities is the mentoring and observing of new managers. One was sent to her office for a day’s worth of training.  When it came time to go to lunch, he offered to drive.  When he started up the car, she heard a “preaching” tape.  She listened a moment and then exclaimed, “That’s Pastor Warner!  That’s my pastor!”  He told her that he really enjoyed listening, and that being raised in another religion, he’d never heard the Gospel like that.  It turns out that another employee was working and bringing him preaching tapes. He was looking forward to the messages. This opened the door for her to discuss the Gospel with him and God’s salvation in Christ.  He has been in our church ever since.  All the time, I was completely unaware to the mystery of influence that had been going on.  Influence, but shhh, don’t encourage him!
(Isaiah 55:10,11)NLT paints a vivid picture and gives us a wonderful promise. "The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth.  They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”  Our joy is to share the Word of God as best we can, and to leave the results with God.  It’s not going to be our personality, our persuasive ability, or the power of our eloquence or intellect.  The power and influence lies in the Scripture itself.  Just like refreshing raindrops or snowflakes, the Word has power to refresh and revive a parched desert.  God will revive His people and convert the lost, and even if we don’t see all the results, we need to remain confident and faithful to proclaim God’s Word.  Martin Luther explained, “I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word...otherwise I did nothing...the Word did it all!”  But, shhh, don’t encourage him!
One of the marks of the Spirit-filled individual and church is that they can’t stop talking about Jesus.  I love the newly saved, and delivered Gadarene (Mk.5:18-20).  “And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you."  And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.”  This ten city region that before had wanted nothing to do with Jesus, later recognized and welcomed him (Mark 7:31) Why the change in response?  I believe, in part, this was the result of the testimony and influence of this one converted man. J. Ray Klingsmith wrote, “People are starving for the Word of God, and they don’t even know it; but when they hear it, believed, and get a taste of it, it feeds their soul like nothing else can.”  There’s no greater privilege than to teach, and preach, and to understand God’s wonderful Word,  But, shhh, you don’t want to encourage him.
This influence extends to all kinds of places and people, you just never know.  I received a note from one of our congregants. “Pastor Warner, First of all I want to share what my son was asking for on his birthday.  My son’s birthday is coming up ____ and he approached my wife and made this statement, “Mom, all I want for my birthday is my family to be together (Abuela, Tata, Tios and Tias and cousins – he named each by name) but he did not stop there. He said he wanted all of us to be together over dinner and for Pastor Warner to preach a sermon to us.  You know, he could have asked for an iPad (I would not have given to him), but could have asked for Star Wars/Lego figurines, he could have asked for a party at the bowling alley or trip to Disneyland, but my boy sees the important people in his life and wanted us (including you) to come together for a dinner and a sermon.  I thought this was an awesome request...”  I couldn’t agree with him more, but, shhh, you don’t want to encourage him!  Oh, but you see, I already am, thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ!
Saturday, June 1, 2013

When I started thinking seriously about 2013, and our June Bible Conference, it was impossible to ignore the fact that this was going to be our 40-year anniversary!  Forty years of ministry, 40 years of evangelism and discipleship, 40 years of preaching and teaching, 40 years of church planting both in Tucson and around the world.  I could see that this would “flavor” much of this year, and rightly so.  First, for God’s glory.  (Ps.105:5) “Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced.”  When I look at all that God has done, it makes me want to shout His praise and glory, “Look what the Lord has done!” The second thing that makes this entirely fitting is to acknowledge the faithful saints who have made this possible.  Those who have “partnered in the faith of the Gospel!” Those steadfast saints who have “owned” the Lord’s vision.  They have embraced, identified with, invested in, and served the “purpose of God in their generation.”  I’m sure there are those numerologists who could explain the significance of 40 from the Bible, but it would be getting side-tracked.

Out of all this, grew the Conference theme and focus, “STILL AT IT!”  This is not promoting an attitude that is resistant to change but, hopefully, the idea of unwavering faithfulness to the will of God.   Some of you may recognize that this comes from a motto that John Wesley employed, “AT IT - ALL AT IT- ALWAYS AT IT.”

This is definitely not a mindset that you can manufacture artificially.  It has to be God-birthed and God-breathed!  This parallels a fantastic statement about God in the Book of Zephaniah. He put things, “Yet God remains righteous in her midst...He stays at it, day after evening He’s still at it, strong as ever...”  (Zeph.3:1-5)

In the minds of so many people, isn’t this their concern or main question?  It might be someone you’ve witnessed to in the past, or someone you‘ve been reunited with after many years.  One of the first questions they ask is, “Are you still into that Jesus thing? Are you still religious and/or going to that church?  What they’re asking in one way or another is, ARE YOU STILL AT IT?!  What thrills me about all this is we’re talking about a worthy endeavor:  the building of Jesus’s church and the advancement of the kingdom of God.  I say this with the conviction that the church is the hope of the world, and why Jesus made it completely clear, ‘On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  James Emery White wrote, “As a result, the church is the most dynamic, active, vibrant, forceful project on the planet.  It is the one thing we will give our lives to that will live on long after we are gone—and not just for a generation or two, but for all of eternity.”

So, this brings me to a juncture, or a crossroads of how do I continue?  How do you tell the story of forty years in a reasonable length of time?  In telling our story, one option open to us follows the line of, “What have you done?”  There is, however, another perspective, that has a profound effect on how we view 40 years.  It asks, “Who are you?” or “What have you become?” We sort of expect the first question when we meet someone; at some point they will ask, “So, tell me, what do you do?”  There is validity to this, but it is also a relatively “safe” question.  Far less common, because it starts to probe the real you, is someone who asks, “So, tell me, who are you?”  As I reflect on forty years of ministry, I could fill up a lot of space with what we’ve done.  Don’t get me wrong; these would be important and valuable contributions, because we try not to traffic with the trivial.  But, I could also go deeper and ask during these forty years what have you become...who are we?

  • Have I become a more fully devoted Jesus follower...more of Him, and less of me?
  • Do I love people more? Do I carry a willingness to “spend and be spent for the sake of your souls”?
  • Am I a better husband and loving my wife with the love Jesus has for the church?
  • Am I an obedient and cheerful giver? Is that grace operating in my life to be blessed and be a blessing?
  • Am I becoming more and more of a servant in the exercise and discharge of ministry tasks?
  • Am I becoming large-hearted or magnanimous in my dealings with others, when that option is present?
  • Do I try to bring a spirit of excellence to everything; reflecting an attitude that says God deserves my best?
  • Am I content with the status quo or am I compelled to seek first the kingdom of God?
  • How aware am I, and of what value do I place on “the least of these my brethren?”
  • Do I value the “spirit of holiness” so that it is a “heart pursuit” or has compromise made me casual?
  • Do I have a heart of forgiveness in light of God’s incredible forgiveness of me and my sins?
  • Am I practicing a life overflowing with gratitude and thanksgiving and freely express it?
  • Am I less impressed with or in need of recognition, but simply glad when the Gospel is advanced?

Jesus dropped a bit of a bombshell when he said (Matt.7:21) "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” I must confess, this verse has always troubled me, since it obviously says that none of can be half-hearted or presumptuous when it comes to our place in the kingdom.  Entry into the kingdom of heaven requires a divine symmetry, “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  I cannot be committed to my will at all costs, and be fervent about the Father’s will at the same time.  It was the response of the people that is quite intriguing.  Their response focused on all the things they had done, “On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'  And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” Jesus made it clear that the kingdom is about relationship; it is about the Father’s will becoming paramount.  In the case of these folk, lawlessness remained in control thus, “I never knew you.”  In the Lord’s mind, what was critical was “who are you?” and “what are you becoming?”

Can you see how there are two important but different story lines here?  I have a lot more to say, but, please, could you excuse me...I feel that I need to go to the altar, first, and do some repenting!  Hey, but isn’t that what Conference is for anyway?!  Thank you, Jesus!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013
A good fisherman always “sets the hook” before trying to reel in the fish.  Hopefully, now that I’ve got your attention, let me go back to July of 2009.  Something was growing in me, a whole new realm of inspiration.  I was going to start writing a blog, “Keeping Your Head In The Game.”  Two things were converging.   The first was using the numerous communication tools that technology has made available to our age.  The second thing was as the sub-title of the blog states, “Helping people think Biblically and have a Christian mindset throughout life’s journey.”  I was excited!  I was “pregnant” with a God-idea!

The timing for my launch might have been a little bit off.  It was during the Sadler’s Alaska Ultra-Challenge in 2009, which is the longest and hardest wheelchair or handcycle race in the world, 256 miles from Fairbanks to Anchorage.  The questionable timing was because I didn’t have a full grasp on the time demands that writing would make, even bad writing.  So, to try to do this during a six-day stage race was a bit taxing.  Either way, I made the plunge, and since then, there have been some starts and stops, as I’ve juggled my time between preaching and teaching, and the new craft of writing.

This led to Twitter, the most well-known of all the micro-blogging websites.  It has over 200 million people using it, and it has become part of how people communicate today or “the people’s voice.  I am very aware of the valid spiritual and moral concerns in the world of social media. This is why you must have some clear spiritual guidelines and parameters to use technology effectively.  However, I believe some of these pitfalls are trumped if it is used as a tool for the purpose of communicating God’s truth.  Here is what we came up with how to best use Twitter for the church and its mission as a medium of communicating truth.

  1. To use it judiciously in a thoughtful and prayerful manner (you get in trouble if you think you must say something about everything).

  2. To help facilitate the dynamics of leadership with words of encouragement, vision, purpose, and admonishment here in the U.S. and around the world.

  3. To help people feel connected with the preaching of the Gospel, the mission of our church, and various church-related news, activities, and prayer requests.

  4. A way to shape the cultural conversation, letting people know about current events, serious or pop culture, what we can call people’s attention to, and comment upon.

  5. To steer people to more substantive platforms, such as our website and blog postings.

In another sermon I preached just this February, this was part of the introduction: “You’re not going to stop today’s technological tsunami, but our challenge is we must diligently work to understand how to live for God faithfully in a technology-saturated world and coincide with Jesus’s mission and mandate, ‘I will build My church.’” Overall, I have tried to adhere to these principles.  I received a note right after the November elections that said, “The presidential election being what it is and gay marriage and pot smoking being approved in my state.  I could use a positive/encouraging tweet right now.”

So, back to practicing the discipline of writing.  This post was preceded by a statement I read by Jocelyn K. Glei. She wrote the following: “Today, writing well is more important than ever.  Far from being the province of a select few as it was in Hemingway’s day, writing is a daily occupation for all of us – in email, on blogs, and through social media.  It is also a primary means for documenting, communicating, and refining our ideas.  As essayist, programmer, and investor Paul Graham has written, ‘Writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you’re bad at writing and don’t like to do it, you’ll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated.”  Having said that,  I know there are some things that can only be effectively communicated face-to-face.  Listen to the Apostle John, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” (2John 12) I’d like you to see that the Apostle John is comfortable using “1st century technology”:  paper, pen and ink.  John was able to use technology in the service of the church, but he still recognized that this was inferior to embodied relationships.  He employed both kinds of communication; but he believed that only face-to-face reality offered both him and others “complete joy.”

All of this was sparked by a powerful incentive that came to me just recently in one of those “God-reminders” that often comes to those who follow Jesus Christ.  I came across one of the 40-year old weekly articles that I used to write for the Prescott, AZ newspaper, The Prescott Courier, which ran every Friday.  The series was called “Metamorphosis” which is the Bible’s word for change or transformation.  I actually had forgotten about this, but it reminded me that the desire to write had been with me, placed there by God for a long time. It confirmed the truth of (Eph.2:10)
“For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” 
I remember some of the events surrounding this.  I was a young Christian in the Prescott Foursquare Gospel Church.  I had the “idea” that maybe the paper would print an article highlighting the miracle of people’s changed lives in Christ.  I told my pastor about the idea, and he suggested that I talk to another man in our church about writing it, Phil Payson, He was a good man, and certainly much more qualified than I was.  The only problem is this idea had not been birthed in Phil’s heart, as gifted as he was; and it wasn’t growing in the garden of his soul!  After awhile I felt the Holy Spirit challenging me that He wanted me to write this article, since he’d deposited this “open door” originally in my heart.  Here’s a copy of one of those articles with my by-line!  I’m quite sure that it wasn’t Pulitzer-quality writing, but that reminder spoke to me that these desires to communicate the Gospel through various media outlets had been planted in my heart a long time ago, and God had not forgotten!
It was the author Kurt Vonnegut who said, “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about.  It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.  I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way – although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something.  A petitioner to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.”  One thing I do know is that God’s grace in my life has equipped me with the capacity to feel very deeply or passionately about things that matter most!

Oh yes, the title question, “Would the Apostle Paul use social media?”  Paul’s exposes his heart  to us in (Rom.1:14,15) “For I owe a great debt to you and to everyone else, both to civilized people and uncivilized alike; yes, to the educated and uneducated alike. So, to the fullest extent of my ability, I am ready to come also to you in Rome to preach God's Good News” My sense is the man who wrote this would most likely employ every communication tool at his disposal, while recognizing some real pitfalls inherent in how it’s used.

The purpose of this blog posting is to do a kind of spiritual reset!  I take encouragement from a writer’s adage, “Have the courage to write badly.”  OK, I can try that!  I’m excited because on the one hand, the Word of God is inexhaustible, and on the other hand there is the Holy Spirit’s inspiration enabling me to care deeply about things.  So, in shameless self-promotion (!), I encourage you to follow me on Twitter and visit the web site for any new postings.  I will keep trying my best to be.....“STILL AT IT!”

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