Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas, 2009

Hi Church Family,

Merry Christmas. I am truly the most blessed man alive, spending my nineteenth Christmas among God's wonderful people at Catskill Mountain Christian Center. The miracle of Bethlehem is burning as brightly in my heart this year as ever before--especially when I think about how we are so much like the people who witnessed that great event on the first Christmas. I recognize all the biblical characters in our CMCC community today:

I recognize Mary in every dear woman in our church, obedient in hardship and full of innocent devotion to Him. I see Joseph in every strong man holding onto his faith and going along with the plan even though not fully comfortable with everything happening. I see a busy, listless community around us as dull of hearing as Bethlehem's Innkeepers. I can recognize the Wise Men in the eyes of those in CMCC who are looking upward for wisdom, always trying to learn and experience more of God. I see King Herod in the hostile attitudes of our modern age. I see the Shepherds in all of the hard working men and women of CMCC, always busy with jobs, businesses, homes and families but quick to jump to serve God when called upon. I recognize the Baby Jesus in the eyes of every child--each one an up-and-coming Billy Graham, Martin Luther, William Wilberforce or Mother Theresa. I feel the presence of Angels every time we gather to worship Jesus.

So to all of you who have witnessed Jesus Christ born in your own heart, I wish you the most wonderful Christmas ever. Jesus Christ: born of a virgin, lived without sin, worked miracles, loved the down trodden, taught truth, offered hope, crucified for our transgressions and raised from the dead... reigns in Glory forever more... will be back to get us soon.

Christmas Blessings,
Pastor Bob Engelhardt

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Beyond Sowing & Reaping

Sowing and reaping is a popular subject of modern Bible teachers. We hear a lot about the importance of sowing the right seed and believing for the harvest and these teachings are altogether appropriate because the principle illuminates a great promise clearly seen in God’s Word. But this article looks at another principle we’ll call ‘beyond sowing and reaping.’ Again, this does not, in any way, diminish insight on sowing and reaping. But, careful examination of God’s Word reveals certain instances when people experience blessing of unmerited and unearned favor; a place beyond sowing and reaping.

Perfect Sowing & Reaping: Not so Good

If we lived in a perfect sowing and reaping world, most of us would not fare so well in the long run because it would be a world of perfect justice. If we only reap good fruit from the good we sow and then reap bad fruit for the bad we sow—that’s not so good. There are honestly some seeds that I’ve planted that I don’t want to harvest. And there are some other places where I haven’t sown as diligently as I ought to, but I’d still love to get some kind of good outcome. I really do not want to live in a perfect sowing and reaping world.

Again it is important to respect the Word and emphasize an important spiritual law: Galatians Chapter six from verse six says, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”

Sowing to the Spirit through Prayer

When a veritable tornado picked me up and thrust me into the Kingdom of God 27 years ago I’m fortunate that I didn’t instantly end up in a church where people attempted to temper my enthusiasm. I’ve discovered over the years that often among long-time Christians there is a cynical sense of apathy toward new on-fire believers—almost a union mentality. This voice says, “Take it easy and pace yourself; don’t work so hard.” I’m glad I didn’t come into the Kingdom with people like that around me.

Upon my initial entrance into God’s Kingdom the only guidance I had was from Sunday TV preachers saying that if I didn’t give absolutely everything I had to God I probably wasn’t even really saved. In particular, Kenneth Copeland was on TV teaching at the time that all committed Spirit-filled Christians should spend at least an hour every day praying in the Holy Spirit. I just believed him and obeyed. I honestly didn’t know any better so I assumed that everyone who was baptized in the Holy Spirit prayed in the Spirit for an hour every single day. I took off like a rocket, feverishly sowing to the Spirit because I knew I had a lot of catching up to do.

Within a few months after my entrance into the Kingdom we moved to a new town and had access to the TBN television network—more preachers saying the same thing. Kenneth Hagin quickly became one of my favorite Bible teachers on TBN and he taught that praying in the Spirit an hour a day is really good… if you want average. Hagin claimed sometimes he prayed in the Spirit two or three hours a day. Meanwhile I was, during this time, voraciously devouring my Bible and learned that on occasion Jesus prayed all night. Wow, I thought, I want to do that!

These teachings on the heels of a profound salvation/baptism-in-the-Spirit experience thrust me into a very consistent and devoted life of prayer: sowing to the Spirit. It is important to note that none of this was dry lifeless prayer. True interaction with a living God engages the mind as sure as a good book or intimate conversation with a friend or lover. There is a sense of His presence that permeates your mind the longer you spend time in the Spirit speaking in His language.

Beyond Sowing and Reaping: My Story of God’s Glory

In the late autumn of 1982 when I was twenty six years old, my wife Nancy and her parents went out one night to a Christian meeting and they came back with an incredible story. At this time in my life, I had no living relationship with God and was not into all of this charismatic jazz. The story they told that night, however, really caught my interest. A women at the meeting said that Jesus Christ recently came into her bedroom one night, sat on the edge of her bed and spoke to her for a couple hours while her husband slept through the whole thing.

Having been raised in a church I knew about Jesus and believed in him like one knows about and believes in George Washington. He’s a guy from a history book that I knew ‘about.’ But there was something in the way they told this story—especially coming from my father-in-law, a man I respected—that deeply affected me. They actually believed this lady was credible; they weren’t calling her a raving nut. I thought to myself, “Can Jesus Christ do that? Can He actually visit a person?” It completely blew out my theological circuits!

Just considering this premise made me feel instantly very spiritually hungry; a sensation I’d never known before. Apparently, this short-circuit of my established materialistic God-logic completely fried my fuses of resistance. So, with freshly fried logic, I quickly devised an experiment to test this new spiritual possibility and because I was a prideful son-of-a-gun I did not tell anyone what I was planning to do. I decided to go to a secret place and pray to see if Jesus would come to me if I asked Him. I figured if Jesus came to that lady he might come to me.

At ten o’clock PM two days later I left my house and went to the empty print shop where I worked as manager by day. I placed a wooden pallet on the floor as a kneeler, knelt down and said, “God… Jesus… Will you fill me with the Holy Spirit and give me your gifts?” It was the most informal, unreligious sort of prayer you can imagine and… POW! God hit me with a million Holy-Spirit-volts of His love and changed the trajectory of my life forever. I was, most importantly, electrified with a love for Him and undeniably sensed His love for me. I, who had always been the consummate average Joe, suddenly felt special, important and favored by the God of the whole universe.

Events like this highlight the realization that when engaging God we are encountering a person, not an impersonal force or a cold solution to some spiritual equation. I did not sow even one small seed into that magnificent event—I was simply an object of God’s unmerited love and I reaped a harvest for which I had done nothing.

One Who Reaps Where He has not Sown

This brings us to the parable of the unprofitable servant in Matthew 25:14-30. In the story, the master returns from his long journey and calls the first servant who says (my paraphrase), “You gave me five million bucks to invest and I made you five million more bucks.” And, the next servant says, “You gave me two million bucks to invest and I made you two million more bucks.” And, the third servant says, “You gave me a million bucks and here’s your million bucks back. I was afraid of losing it so I safely hid it because I know about you, “You are a hard man, you’ve reaped where you haven’t sown and you’ve gathered where you haven’t scattered seed.”

And the lord says back to him, “You know, you’re right—I do reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed.” Obviously the point of the parable is to reveal the lazy and wicked servant’s excuse as pale and illegitimate but it also reveals, almost accidentally, an important characteristic about God: He is able to do anything, including reaping where He hasn’t sown and gathering where He has not scattered seed.

Favor: The Promised Land

God can harvest where he hasn’t scattered seed and so in Him is an ability beyond sowing and reaping—the place of favor. Favor is the place where God will overlook my weaknesses, give me multiple chances to succeed, love me under every circumstance, give me special gifts, riches and glory, just because he loves and favors me. Favor is the root of the word favorite! Imagine being a heavenly ‘teacher’s pet’ or God’s favorite child.

Joseph the Favorite Child

For a pure biblical prototype of favor-in-action, the life of Joseph from Genesis is unmatched. Joseph is extraordinary for many reasons but it seems like he had an unfair advantage right from the beginning. “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors” Genesis 37:3. It was his dad’s arbitrary will to love him more than any of his other children. Joseph had unmerited and unearned favor from his father. He did not do anything extraordinary or plant any seeds to invoke the principle of sowing and reaping to receive this favor; it was only because his father happened to be old when he was born.

In many ways Joseph is a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus because like Joseph, Jesus was His Father’s favored child. But for our purposes, let us consider Joseph’s coat as a prophecy of Jesus. Our beautiful coat of covering is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Joseph’s father loved him more than all his children and made a gorgeous colorful coat for him to wear just like Jesus is a beautiful coat for us to wear. The Scripture says, “…as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27), and, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 13:14).

The Colorful Coat is Jesus

The Father made a coat for you to wear because He loves you and, like Joseph was to his father, you are the child of God’s old age. (God must be pretty old seeing as He is called the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7). Your faith-courage grows by seeing Jesus as a colorful custom-made coat on your shoulders, made especially for you by God Almighty. Now when the Father sees you He sees Jesus covering you. Jesus Christ—His own master creation who He loves with all His heart is your identity and covering.

If you can believe it, God can never be mad at you as long as you are hidden in Christ, wearing the coat He made for you. Your inner voice may condemn you saying, you are really not good enough to merit being God’s favorite child. Exactly! That’s why you have a coat; so when God looks at you, He sees Jesus first. Your sin is covered by the coat. When Joseph’s father looked at him, he first saw the beautiful coat he made with his own hands.

Joseph didn’t win his father’s love. He received His father’s love. It was his father’s personal arbitrary decision to give his love and make a handmade coat. That coat was a public statement saying, “This boy is my favorite son and all of my glory rests on him.” All Joseph had to decide was whether or not to wear the coat.

The Colorful Coat Draws Attention

The Father God likewise loves to see His children proudly covered by Jesus Christ, however, like dressing in a peculiar brilliant colored garment, some believers feel embarrassed to go out in public with their faith. In fact, many Christians put the funny-looking, bright, ostentatious coat of their Christian identity in the closet whenever they go out. I’ll bet Joseph felt real funny at first wearing that blazing colorful coat on the farm with all his brothers and the servants staring at him saying, “Who does that clown think he is? He’s no better than us!”

The coat Joseph wore was a public statement and a peculiar, loud and meaningful garment that marked him as a person with a special position and destiny in his life. Normal life was forever over for Joseph once he got that coat. Likewise, Jesus instructs His people to, “Let your light so shine before men…” (Matthew 5:16) and, "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32-33). Joseph lived among a large family of livestock herdsmen with this odd colorful coat just like we are supposed to wear Jesus on our lips openly among our family and friends.

The Price of Favor: Persecution

The price we pay for enjoying God’s favor is frequently the anger and resentment of many close friends and family members. Jesus was clear about this when He warned that the enemies of His followers would be of their own household (Matthew 10:34-39). Joseph had this same kind of trouble with his family members. Genesis 37 mentions several times about how his brothers’ hatred continued to grow and grow toward Joseph until they finally conspired to kill him. Even his own father was taken aback at his big dream. All of this grief was because he was full of confidence rooted in the unashamed favor of his dad and dreams from God.

Where do we get this Christianity measured by our popularity? The truth is that we’re supposed to wear the favor of God on our lips openly and unashamedly. We’re supposed to walk around singing, “My Father loves me, so you can’t hurt me. I am His favorite child. I have a wonderful future and dream.” But instead many whine as if we can all relate to the famous old spiritual, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”

The Keys of Repentance

This is not to diminish the mistakes and trials that do certainly impact our lives but the Bible gives the antidote for sin and grief. In fact, it says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). So, the key to favor is to forgive others because we ourselves need to be forgiven, stay freshly repentant for our own sins and to wear our Jesus coat. “My Father loves me, so you can’t hurt me.” Remember, the Father harvests where he hasn’t planted any seeds. This is favor beyond reaping and sowing!

If you can believe it, you can walk through life with the attitude of a favorite child of God Almighty. You have the right to be convinced that He is always looking at you affectionately and admiringly. Do you understand how amazing this is? Do you understand what God has given us? Many people walk around covered with a coat of average with their wildest dream to win some stupid lottery. Christians sometimes live with coats of anger, criticism, backbiting, judging, and sarcasm, saying, “Gosh aren’t we Americans cool.” We would rather wear our cool coat, pretending to do great in life and covering-up our fear of failure, than wear our Jesus coat of God’s favor.

Does Coolness Cancel Out Favor?

People today seem to care more about being cool than being righteous. Even among hip young church leaders it is prevailing wisdom to have the appropriate cool tattoo, wear the right clothes, cool shoes, right haircut, say the right cool catch-phrase, and know all the words to the right songs—because looking and sounding like everyone else is an important gauge of coolness. But Joseph had this very uncool coat made for him by his dad and it is clearly implied that he wore it continuously. It helped separate him and make him an outcast in his own family.

We can easily imagine a young person today saying, “Mom, do I have to wear the coat Dad made for me in public? I can’t let my friends see me in this.” His mother would retort, “Your father made it for you so be quiet and wear the coat.” And so Joseph cannot help but feel awkward: both out of place with his brothers and specially loved by his father. When he tries to befriend his brothers all they can think is how they don’t have a special coat from their father. They all work just as hard for their dad and they don’t get an awesome coat like Joseph’s.

Joseph finally starts getting used to being different so he eventually sort of struts around with his colorful coat and feels like a superhero. And the brothers are mad at him. “Oh I hate that guy,” they’re saying, “Who does he think he is?” In the same way, if you have a dream and a vision from God on your lips, just get ready for it, the backlash is coming. Unfortunately, many Christians do not wear their coat boldly but keep it in the closet when unsaved family and friends are around to ‘keep the peace.’ This is like pretending you do not know how to read to keep illiterate people from feeling bad.

Moreover, when you leave your Jesus coat in the closet it will hinder your ability to receive a dream from God. When you are more self-conscious and concerned about being rejected by family and friends than walking in your Father’s blessing, you will not have the free flowing relationship needed to receive a genuine God-dream.

Is God With You in a Pit?

So, Joseph’s big dream gets him thrown into a pit and sold into slavery. Is God still with Joseph in the pit? You’re darn right He is. Is he with him while working as a slave for a heathen named Potiphar? Absolutely, yes. How about when he’s thrown in jail? Is God with him then? Yes.

Joseph’s confidence in God’s favor was completely immovable and he produced a profit in every situation he found himself in. Christians who are not secure in their favor with God do not have confidence when things in life turn bad. Many quickly revert to their old sinful ways assuming that God is too hard to understand or He must have turned against them.

So, every time you get thrown in a pit, and you think, “Oh God! Where’s my coat of your favor?” just know that God didn’t walk out on you. There is no sin that coat won’t cover. There is nothing that you’ve done that can separate you from the love of God. Nothing! There’s no pit that you’ve found yourself in that can separate you. It’s God’s good pleasure to give you His love. And, it’s all received and activated by faith.

God’s favor has nothing to do with your personality type. The Bible does not say anything about Joseph’s personality. It doesn’t say anything about his IQ, wisdom, looks, virtue, love, strength or honesty. It just says that his father loved him for his own reasons—Joseph was born later in his life and Israel just favored him. Maybe by this time his father said I’m just going to love this kid. “Yeah, Joe, want the keys to the car? Yeah go, go ahead… but wear that nice coat I made for you.” What does seem apparent however is the favor had the effect of drawing greatness and virtue out of Joseph. God’s favor should affect us the same way.

If you can receive it, God’s favor is on you. There’s no price you can pay to get it. It’s free. You just have to receive it by faith. Does your heart resonate with this message? Can it connect? Do you believe there is logic in the message of God’s love through Jesus Christ that can compete with the logic of the world that speaks against this message? That’s really the question. At the end of the day what we are faced with is an issue of logic. The logical equation of the Gospel is this: humans are fallen in sin and need a savior and God loved us and sent us His Son to die for us – that’s the logic of the gospel.

The logic of the world says that we’re accidentally evolving into something, we don’t know where we came from, and we don’t know where we’re going. Pick your logic. I’ll take the one which promises me eternal life and God’s unmerited favor any day of the week. I’ll take the logic of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Friday, October 16, 2009

God: Venture Capitalist

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 "And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. 16 "Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 "And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 18 "But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money. 19 "After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 "So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.' 21 "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' 22 "He also who had received two talents came and said, 'Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.' 23 "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' 24 "Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 'And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' 26 "But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 'So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. 28 'Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. 29 'For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 'And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' Matthew 25:14-30

Jesus: The Nice-Machine?

I have never been able to understand the preachers who paint Jesus as a one dimensional ‘nice-machine.’ In fact, there is not even a hint of warmth or forgiveness offered to the unprofitable servant in this parable. This guy is not going to be depicted by an artist as a lamb nestled in Jesus’ arms by the cool water anytime soon. Some might even accuse Jesus of coming across as harsh here.

God: The Original Venture Capitalist

I think the contemporary job title best describing God’s role as the lord in this parable is venture capitalist, or ‘one who invests funds for start-up firms with exceptional growth potential.’ God is the original venture capitalist and He invests in His servants as part of a business plan designed to grow His Son’s company, the Church. Jesus Christ set up a proven model to recruit and compensate workers for the purpose of the profitable expansion of His trans-dimensional company. His eventual goal is global market domination, and he makes no bones about it. The Father has invested 6,000 years, the blood of His Son, innumerable angels, the lives of the martyrs, the written Word and the Holy Spirit—and now He expects full participation and profit from every servant.

In the parable, the unprofitable servant tries to be so smooth when he patronizes his lord with empty words and false respect. In modern Christian vernacular, the words might sound more like this: “Gee whiz, Lord, I know how scary and awesome you are but every group had a different teaching about what I was supposed to do for you… How could I really know? In fact, some say I do not have to work at all, just believe… and besides, I’m not smart enough to understand what you really want from me… Everyone has their own interpretation… I’m afraid I might do something wrong… I could never do anything good enough for you… who can really understand the mind of God, anyway? You harvest where you want even where you haven’t scattered seed so I know you don’t need me… That is why I hid salvation in my heart so I wouldn’t lose it… besides; faith is such a personal thing.”

On top of that, I’m sure the unprofitable servant had many other wicked and lazy people agreeing with him so he planned on hiding in the crowd and maybe the lord would forget to call on him. This guy loved democracy… the power of the people to decide for themselves. “Look lord, I didn’t lose my salvation…. I have believed in you for years and they said all you have to do is have faith and, see, Jesus is in my heart. I have my ticket to Heaven. I just kept it safe to myself!”

But the lord is onto him. He says, “Wrong—you are lying. That is not why you didn’t make a profit for me. You did not make a profit for me because you are both wicked and lazy and refused to act on my behalf. You loved the world but you didn’t love Me and you don’t love your neighbors” People commonly cite all kinds of rhetorical excuses to use God in order to secure their own salvation and spend their lives making a profit for themselves but never do make a profit for the Lord. Many believers just do not really care that much about Him.

College Degree and Ordination Ceremonies are Not Necessary

When I washed up on God’s shores at 26 years old in 1982, on one hand, I was walking pretty ugly because I was saved from a very bad place. On the other hand however, I was like an on-fire missile for God, and just crazy enough to start working the crowd for Jesus without a formal education or some impressive pedigree. I obtained some basic coaching from TV preachers, prayed hours each day and began telling family, friends and co-workers what I knew of the Gospel from the day I was born again and filled with the Holy Spirit. I did not wait for someone to ordain me to begin ministering. I became a minister the moment I got saved.

Education and ordination are not necessary to make a profit for God. Both of those things can be helpful but lack of them should never be offered as an excuse for lack of personal investment in God’s business. Nobody should stall in a fantasy, waiting for a ceremony with apostles and prophets to start working for God. A ceremony may or may not ever happen but I guarantee if a person is not producing for the Kingdom before ordination, they will not after. Don’t forget our parable—God is a venture capitalist coming back soon and expecting a profit from every servant.

Simply Holding Your Own is Not Enough

God didn’t give the life of his Son because any of us are that much of a prize on our own. I’m sorry, is that harsh? I’m probably not talking about you; I’m talking to the other people reading this. I know you’re probably truly a prize. Kidding aside, the truth is, He does want you… and more.

Let me illustrate: Bill Brown is a venture capitalist and Mary Smith comes to him with an idea for a web design business needing $100,000 to get started. Bill agrees to back her after looking at her education, experience, credit-history, business plan and then negotiating terms of interest and repayment. He then transfers $100,000 of his personal money to Mary. There is only one reason Bill is investing this money—profit. He is not going to be happy if she only gives him his investment money back.

Imagine five years later, Mary thanking Bill as she gives him $100,000 payment in full saying, “Boy, wasn’t that a great investment. See, you got all you money back, I didn’t lose a dime!” I’m sure Bill’s response would be similar to the lord of the unprofitable servant. He would be outraged lamenting, “I could have made more profit if my money was in the bank.” So, the Father says to His Church—I’ve given you the life of my Son and I’ve invested in you and I’ve given you everything you need; every spiritual blessing in heavenly places has been given into your hands. Now go make me a profit. Just giving God back the salvation He gave you is not profit!

We Have All the Investment Capital We Need

Jesus Himself promised adequate available investment capital to pray mountains into the sea and He set up an account of power and grace with a potentially unlimited balance; with more becoming available as needed to the faithful servant. That’s how much spiritual capital God has put up for this venture. But make no mistake: God wants a profit. God is looking for a profit.

The Unprofitable Servant’s Dilemma

So often Christians mope around like, “Oh well, nobody is giving me a ministry so I guess I’ll just wait here and try my best to resist sin until Jesus comes back.” Resisting sin out of will power alone is like a little boy trying to see if he can stay awake all night. Sooner or later, no matter how hard he tries, sleep takes over and he succumbs to the inevitable. There is no stopping nature for long.
Sin is the same. If a believer is not busy actively handling grace, then sooner or later he is going to get into trouble because only contact with fresh grace relieves the sin urge. Without fresh grace the growing impulse becomes too great and the sin virus inside will battle with the mind until the sin manifests. Human willpower is no long-term match for sin and Adam’s children always get themselves into trouble apart from fresh blood-bought grace. Profitable servants are actively investing so when they do sin they are quick to repent. The unprofitable servant keeps his faith mainly inside his heart so when he sins he does not repent and, like mushrooms, sin is free to grow in the darkness. God is looking for a profit.

Kingdom Profit

Under the direction of Apostle John Kelly, in 1991 my wife Nancy and I took a church plant here in rural Margaretville. The area had been, since frontier days, famous for being godless. In fact, a popular slogan from the old days still remembered by locals is: “There is no law west of Woodstock and no God west of Shandaken” (Margaretville is the town to the west of Woodstock and Shandaken). Suffice it to say, there was no Spirit-filled church in the tiny town.

We arrived fully secure in the Kingdom business plan and went to work with hearts full of faith. I had long understood that God provides adequate resources, both seen and unseen, and expects profit. Over the years our startup investment package consisting of our faith, 15 people and an abandoned gas station refitted as a church, has produced a profit for the Lord in the form of Catskill Mountain Christian Center.

Eighteen years later CMCC has become a veritable power plant of life and Kingdom productivity, providing hundreds of people the opportunity to invest their own talents for the benefit of the Master. Thousands of lives have been positively affected and Jesus Christ has become a living member of hundreds of homes through the influence of CMCC. Every life that has been affected, every good work rendered, every radio show broadcast, every soul converted, every cup of water given in His name; Every Bible study, Sunday service, marriage saved, child protected, book sold, conference held, missions dollar spent, minister supported, and church encouraged represent profit to the Kingdom through CMCC.

Profit Defined

In Luke chapter four, Jesus reads the scroll in the temple: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor and he sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind and to set in liberty those who are oppressed.” So, ostensibly, this is where Christians come from. We are adopted by God through coming to terms with our malfunction and weakness, admittedly extracted from the poor, the brokenhearted, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed.

Now contrast this with 1 Peter 2:9 where Peter writes by the Holy Spirit: “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, called forth that you may proclaim the praise of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light….”
The question is which group do we belong to now? Which one are you? Are you the poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind and oppressed or are you chosen, royal, holy and special? Which one? Are you sometimes both or maybe just confused?

Should I Stay or Should I Go

Some believers seem to want to stay poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind and oppressed. They learn to be comfortable in that identity. “I’m so poor, brokenhearted, oppressed, and blind,” they say, and ten years later they are still in the same church and they are still poor, brokenhearted, captive and blind. “I need mercy, God, I need your mercy,” and yet there is no growth and no profit. These people have gained no profit.

If you are a believer and God has said His people are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people called forth to proclaim His praises, that is who you are now. You’ve received your adoption papers. You are a new thing even though you sometimes feel like the old thing. That is the way of it. You still contain a lot of the old but you are supposed to be becoming new. You were the poor, the brokenhearted the captive, the blind and the oppressed and you are actually becoming chosen, royal, holy and special. This positive movement is profit on its own and increases the servant’s ability to gain more profit.

Profit begets profit; so as you become chosen, royal, holy and special you are becoming like Jesus because he is the perfect model of these qualities. You see, you have to believe you are chosen, royal, holy and special, and become used to living in that mindset; convinced that God has made you to be His favored child and nothing can take that away from you. Why… because He said so and He is God, and He expects profit from you.

The Other You – The Unprofitable Voice

Right about now, you’re unprofitable, deceitful and self-righteous voice is going to say, “But I don’t feel chosen, royal, holy or special and I do not want to be a hypocrite.” And on a deeper and even more devious level, the inner voice whispers, “If you blab all over the place about being God’s favored child, you know deep down inside that you are going to have to act like a full blown holy Christian all the time.” This is significant because like the wicked, lazy servant, we all know that there are some benefits in being less committed, especially if you do not want to get stuck with too much work or have to keep company with ‘uncomfortable’ people. There are advantages to having people keep their distance, such as lower expectations and fewer demands to perform. It takes a lot of faith-effort to produce a profit for the Kingdom.

But if you are sure about being chosen, royal, holy and special and you position yourself as God’s favored child there is a lot expected of you. So sometimes we’re a little unsure of exactly what we want. We like to sing songs in the sold-out camp but when the expectations of overcoming, victory, sacrifice and profit come on us, we’re like “whoa, slow down, I’m just a leper—a sinner saved by grace.”

The Joseph Connection – Profit Personified

The story of Joseph starting in Genesis 37 is a great example of someone who had a chosen, royal, holy and special mindset and created profit for each of his masters. He was raised as a favored child of his father, Jacob, and is considered, in many ways, a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus. Joseph, therefore, makes a perfect case study of a person who possessed the mindset of a profitable servant.

When someone is raised by parents who focus love, admiration, time and attention on him/her it creates a good self image. You feel valuable because you are valued by your parents. You know you can do things because you have been treated as a valuable treasure. When, like Joseph, you are raised by parents who love and train you in a biblical way, and your parents carry the blessing of God, you end up being an optimistic, well balanced person—a candidate for a dream and one who has a sense of destiny. Profitable people are creative people.

“Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. 2 This is the history of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors." (Gen 37:1-3)

Two things to note in this passage. Number one: Righteous Joseph was a snitch—an unpardonable sin in many respectable human institutions like prison and the mafia. He ran straight to his father when his brothers did wrong. A profitable servant is loyal to his leader even above his own brothers. Lazy and wicked servants always travel in packs and use group influence to corrupt others and restrain excellence. In order to bring profit to the Master, we must have His good in mind above all things.

Number two: Joseph’s daddy made him a special coat—he just loved that boy and it is very safe to say that Joseph grew confident underneath that love. In the same way, a recently adopted child of God transitions from a person who was in captivity and is now expected to wear a new cover identifying him/her as favored child of God. A child of God’s coat separates him/her from the pack. Jesus Christ is the beautiful coat of the Christian.

This new coat feels strange at first but soon becomes comfortable giving a sense of confidence, and the child of God grows more and more secure as the love and admiration shines from the Father. Your Father loves seeing the new coat He made for you on your shoulders. The coat declares, “I am chosen, royal, holy and special. My coat was made by my Father’s own hand… I believe it because He said it.” I become very confident in my self-image to the degree that I believe it true. I become comfortable in this new coat because my Father made it for me.

One Thousand Years of God’s Love Today

When I think about how great the Father’s love is toward me, I’m reminded of the Scripture, “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Because God is not constrained by time and space He has one thousand years (or more) of His God-time to invest in my day today. One thousand years of His love, one thousand years of His concentration and one thousand years of His concern for me all concentrated in each single day I live. He really loves me… He has every hair numbered… He knows every detail.

Like Jacob loved Joseph, my Father loves me and dotes on me watching my every move with admiration as I grow up in his love. When he looks at me he sees two things that make Him smile: 1. He sees the coat which He, himself made for me. 2. He sees me joyfully and publicly wearing my new coat and He sees the great desire I have to please Him.

“Now Joseph had a dream…” Genesis 37:5

When I openly wear Jesus, I feel very special and important, growing confident under the adoring eye of my Father. Soon, this faith and love creates the perfect spiritual environment for receiving a dream from God. When a person is secure in the knowledge that God absolutely adores them, they are given the gift of a dream.

Today many Christians are doing circles. These are people without God-dreams because they are not sure if they are poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind and oppressed or chosen, royal, holy and special. As long as there is ambivalence in terms of identity, people will be devoid of God-inspired vision. Many confuse God-dreams with natural goals and end up with a product of their self-life. But when someone is content in the Father’s love, like Joseph, they’ll get a dream from God—a dream connected with destiny. The accomplishment of this dream is purest Kingdom profit!

So, first, one must believe in the Father’s love above all things. Jesus said this in Mark 16, “in that day you will ask my name and I do not say that I shall pray to the Father for you for the Father himself loves you.” This is truth we can embrace with complete confidence because the Word of God says it—feelings aside—if the Word of God says it, you have to believe it. God has the power to make a person into what He says… but believing in His love and present day power is mandatory—that’s faith.

God Creates Profit through Faith Words

Genesis chapter one, the beginning, sets forth some of the most important precedents in the Bible. In this chapter of Scripture the words ‘God said’ occurs ten times and everything He says happens within the respective day. The heavens and earth are created by God speaking things into existence in time and space. When God’s Word says something it indicates His will to do it. He now partners with faith-filled human servants to vocalize His words in time and space, thus releasing His power on earth to create and arrange Kingdom profit.

Visible and Invisible Profit

The Father himself loves you. Relax; you are a child of God. Remember the paralyzed man in Luke 5 who was lowered down before Jesus? His friends carry him to the house where Jesus is healing people and it is too crowded to get in the door. They finally hoist him up onto the roof of the house, remove the tiles and lower him down into the room where Jesus looks up and says to him, “Man, you’re sins are forgiven.”

This begs the question, why would Jesus accuse a poor paralyzed man of being a sinner without even meeting the guy? What has he done wrong? His friends did not bring him to Jesus for absolution of sins but healing. Why would Jesus hurt his feelings by calling him a sinner? Didn’t He have compassion on the poor guy?

“Your sins are forgiven,” – one, two, three… I think Jesus was counting in His head as the Pharisees were starting to fume in anger… “How dare he say your sins are forgiven.” Jesus finally confronts their dilemma with a question, “Which is easier to do, say your sins are forgiven or to say rise up and walk?” This is the question for all of us. Which is easier to do, say your sins are forgiven or rise up and walk? They are both equally impossible. Natural men cannot do either one of them, however, Jesus says, “Just so you know that I have power to forgive sins, rise up and walk.” Jesus performed visible miracles to validate His power to forgive man’s invisible sin debt to God.

No Profit in Pirates

If you have received your Jesus coat, your sins are forgiven. Many Christians walk around with a negative self image, feeling like a stowaway pirate hiding out in a church; always grappling with a haunting feeling of being an outsider. Some dear folks actually think they are the only real Christians and everyone else is a pirate so they begin to secretly organize a mutiny. A child of God is not a rebel pirate. The old pirate nature has been amputated in Christ and all that remains are phantom pains.

God’s Investment – Your Security

A child of God is a child of God: chosen, royal, holy and special. Faith in that premise must be the first and foremost building block of the new life. Even in your paralysis “Your sins are forgiven.” But, your inner voice argues, “I have not done anything good to earn God’s love and favor.” BINGO. He did it all for you and you get it like the gift of a new coat from a loving father. This coat of God’s favor is His investment in you, akin to the talents left with the three servants in our original Scripture.

Likewise the Bible does not indicate that Joseph did anything to earn the favor of his father or merit Jacob’s special love. He was chosen, royal, holy and special… just like the Word of God says you are. In fact, you today have more love being lavished on you right at this very moment from God than Joseph ever had in his life from Jacob. Joseph would go on in his life to be reduced to nothing, several times, but his dream and the favor of God kept him earning profit for every master he served.

The Price of Profit: Rejection

But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him. Genesis 37:4

When you’re confident in the love of God that you are chosen, royal, holy and special, some people will hate you for it. The people closest to you are often first to resent God’s favor on you and be offended by your confidence. They will try to pull you back down into the small and competitive place where people are measured by their physical characteristics and accomplishments. The day you decide you’re going to believe God with all your heart, as in Joseph’s story, some people are going to react badly.

Not infrequently the most troublesome are the closest. Parents, siblings, spouse, children, long time friends, church members and co-workers… certain people will hate you when you hide your old self underneath the coat your Father made for you and start boldly wearing Jesus Christ.

Very often the closest have their feathers ruffled most because your holiness and commitment reveals the spirit of compromise in them. They do not want to go where you are going. Remember Job’s wife couldn’t stand his righteous commitment when things got hard. She said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!" Job 2:9

There is a quality about someone who is holy that makes someone who isn’t holy really upset. Sometimes it is people in your church or family members. Honestly, Joseph’s father wasn’t too crazy about his son’s big dreams of family domination. Sometimes maybe even your pastor or home group leader will not think much of your dream; but it’s not for them to think much of—it’s for you to believe your dream.

Human Nature at its Worst

Next, the brothers are out in the field and Joseph comes looking for them with his beautiful new coat on his shoulders. By this time, these guys are just ripping mad: Then they said to one another, "Look, this dreamer is coming!” Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, 'Some wild beast has devoured him.' We shall see what will become of his dreams!" (Genesis 37:19-20)

When you walk with God’s favor covering you and start boldly talking about your big dream, a desire to strike you down rises up in people. This is a strange and mixed-up fallen world that we live in where someone else’s dream threatens us. How dare you have a dream? How dare you become more successful than me? How dare you elevate yourself above our collective wisdom?
When you are walking in your God-dream, certain people around you will purposely try to block your way in order to break your spirit. They want to snuff it out because your success makes them feel bad. Like the unprofitable servant, your profit coming from God reveals their laziness and wickedness. They want there to be no higher level of righteousness than what they are living. They want to believe that goodness and holiness do not matter in the real world.

This phenomenon happens very commonly in Christian circles. Somebody will turn over a new leaf and say, “today is the day that I’m going to renew my spiritual disciplines.” And, the people around them literally work against them. A husband wants to reclaim his prayer life and his wife works against him or vice versa. Be prepared for resistance in implementing your God-dream.

The hard heart in some people demands that others only achieve success within approved and accepted humanly controlled systems. If you work, fight, save, study, or invest your way to success the world will love you because the world loves its own. If you are chosen by God for his own reasons however, and He dotes on you and gives you a dream and coat, people hate you for it because you have special advantage they are not willing to pursue. It is why Cain killed Abel. People hate you when you have been accepted by God and are not a puppet of the prevailing political sway, leaving their corruption with no influence over you.

Joseph the Profiteer

In every situation where Joseph found himself, he brought a profit to his master. You see, no employer wants to pay you $10 an hour and get $10 revenue in return. If I pay you $10 an hour and don’t get $20 an hour return, I’m not a very good businessman. That’s the point of doing business—making a profit. Every time Joseph worked for someone, he took his little measure of influence and he made a veritable garden out of a desert. Joseph profited his father by bringing him happiness. He profited his father’s business by sharing a bad report about his brothers’ care of the flocks. He was completely rejected, thrown into a pit by his brothers and sold into slavery, bringing financial profit to his brothers… even when he was being rejected he was bringing a profit! Joseph was profit waiting to happen.

In today’s modern church world a person who is that badly rejected by his own brothers in his youth would many times end up in counseling and deliverance sessions for forty years and still feel powerless. But not Joseph; every circumstance he found himself in resulted in profit for each respective human leader and finally for God. Potiphar bought Joseph as a slave and over time, gave his whole household into Joseph’s hands and Joseph served him and God blessed his household for Joseph’s sake (see Genesis 39 1-6). Joseph brought profit to his master.

As a leader, it’s one thing when you see someone really working hard under you and is committed to doing his job with excellence, but it is another thing when you see ambition in his heart because he’s just waiting for you to stumble so he can jump you and take your position. Why is it that every time Joseph had any position the people who were over him loved him and trusted him? Universally, his superiors, both human and God, wanted to give him more authority and power, because he was bringing a profit in every place he served. He was making a profit; a garden in the desert.

What kind of self-image does one possess to get falsely accused, thrown in jail and over time become the number one inmate, responsible for the whole prison? (Genesis 39; 20-23) Joseph had a dream from God… he was chosen, royal, holy and special… he made a profit everywhere he served. He was never a rebel. He served every master profitably, fulfilled his destiny, saved his family and found a home for God’s people for the next four hundred years.
Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold for a profit. He served and made a profit for Potiphar and was betrayed by Potiphar’s wife. He was thrown in prison and served and profited the jailer. He used his spiritual gifts to profit some inmates and was forgotten by them. He was discovered by Pharaoh and served and profited him and all of Egypt. Finally, he served God and fulfilled his original God-dream by rescuing and delivering his father and brothers and finding a home for God’s people.

God the Venture Capitalist Seeks Profitable Servants

The same destiny is offered to the child of God today. The one with the spirit of Joseph says, “I’m going through some hard times, but I’ve got a dream. “I am determined to turn this desert into a garden—give me any desert and I’m going to make a garden.” At which point most people come back to the leader (after whining and complaining behind his back) and say, “well, you didn’t give me any seeds… how can I be expected to make a garden?” Remember, even the wicked and lazy servant knew his lord is the one who, “reaps where you have not sown.”

The great sign of a child of God walking in faith is his ability to create profit: more results than natural resources invested. We serve the God who reaps where He has not sown; who feeds the multitudes with five loaves and two fish. “For the LORD will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her wasted places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the LORD; Joy and gladness will be found in it, Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.” (Isaiah 51:3)

We’re not talking about a dollar invested and a dollar returned. We’re talking about working for God. We’re talking about coming to a community of 600 people and having an expansive ministry far beyond anyone’s expectations (except mine). It is about having a dream of becoming something that’s righteous, holy and pure and raising up people to be world changers and conquerors representing Jesus in this generation.

It is about taking a desert and making a garden by the power of God. Listen, child of God – every boss, every employer – ought to love you. Everywhere you go you should bring a Joseph spirit with you, into every area of your life. Don’t tell me you work for a heathen so you can’t be profitable. All Joseph ever worked for were heathens – except for his dad – and he made every heathen he ever worked for wealthier, more effective and more successful.

Children of God ought to be in government. We ought to be in business. We ought to be in every place bringing excellence – a Joseph spirit to everything. Why? Because God is looking for a profit. And here’s the whammy… Joseph starts out as just one of the brothers but by the time he’s transformed by all of the trials, work and ever increasing success they don’t even recognize him anymore! Like Jesus, Joseph was thrown into a pit and was transformed. The pathway to fulfilling your God-dream will have the same effect.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Back Up to Full Speed!

Here we are at the end of September with leaves changing, school in motion, cooler days, mums in bloom, apple picking time, baseball season's waning as football season's gaining and everything here at CMCC back up to full speed after a long lazy, hazy, crazy summer. I'm lovin' it!

This is a great time of year to get involved in a home group if you are not already in one. Through home group participation we meet new friends, pray for one another and learn rich insight from God's Word. Have you attended Wednesday evening service lately? If not, come out and get a mid-week shot-in-the-arm with worship and Bible teaching by Nancy Engelhardt... very enjoyable.

We also have volunteer opportunities at CMCC to serve the poor in our Family Table store and to serve our neighbors through nursing home ministry or weekly senior fellowship dinner. Contact the church office for info on any of these. Through participation in church activities we serve and are served causing us to grow and flourish as children of God's household.

The story of the woman washing, anointing and kissing Jesus feet in Luke 7:36-50 reminds us that the right reaction to God's forgiveness of our sins is a self-emptying expression of love.

That's why CMCC is long regarded as a church that cares for our neighbors and our God. And thus our motto: With our hands we serve our neighbors, with our mouths we speak of God's Kingdom. I encourage you to look for ways to pour out love on God and on others.

See you Sunday,
Pastor Bob Engelhardt

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Letter to CMCC from Dr. Larry & Judi Keefauver

Dear Saints at CMCC,

Judi and I are so thankful to the Lord for you. For over a decade we have witnessed your faithfulness to the gospel and experienced your love toward us. Pastor Bob and Nancy Engelhardt have encouraged and edified us in so many ways as we have partnered together in ministry and friendship. Relationships and friendships have grown as we have been serving Christ together in ministry, missions, equipping the saints and outreach.

In the beginning, we connected via phone interviews with Pastor Engelhardt on some of our books and then we moved into sharing together in conferences, retreats, seminars and worship services. We have worked together on marriage, parenting, men's and women's ministry, equipping leaders and seeking a deeper walk in the Lord through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. And now... God has spoken to us to move to the Catskills to work apostolically with the Engelhardts and CMCC to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to pastor pastors, to network together and resource churches and ministries throughout the region. We have come home to CMCC as our church--a family of co-laborers with Christ. Wow, what a gift from God!

God has shown us a vision of this region ablaze with fires of the Holy Spirit in towns, villages and hamlets. A bonfire in Margaretville at CMCC spreading throughout the region to ignite the hearts of the saints to share the gospel and see people saved, healed, delivered and discipled throughout the Catskills and beyond. John the Baptist announced that Jesus would, "...baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matthew 3:11). Upon declaring His ministry to the lost, Jesus said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 4:17).

Fire follows repentance. As saints repent of sins that hinder their daily walk with Christ and witness to others, they become salt and light in the world reaching the lost. As the lost are saved and discipled, they join God's army to possess the land. CMCC is part of the Joshua generation in advancing the Kingdom of God is this region and beyond. We must focus on the Great Commission given to us by Christ. We must repent of the sin that so easily besets us and fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We must fight through any attacks of the enemy or the flesh recognizing that no matter how long or tough the battle, we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.

Together, we must finish the work and assignments Jesus gives us so that every victory becomes the foundation for the next advancement of His Kingdom in families, business, media, the arts and entertainment, government, education and religion. We are called to convert the lost, renew and equip the saints, support the leaders of Christ's church, and transform every aspect of culture so that every knee bows to Jesus Christ as Lord.

One motto of a popular home improvement store is, "You can do it; we can help." Judi and I say that to you. We want to thank you for helping us move into our home, the wonderful flowers, food and gifts to help us get settled and even more, the gracious spirit from the Lord that has welcomed us here. We have come to serve, equip, edify, support and help. We want to be like Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:18-23) who were with Paul, even as we are with you and the Engelhardts, for the purpose of "strengthening all the disciples." To us you are a dear family. How we rejoice in this new season of being with you and praise God for you.

Jesus, ignite every believer here at CMCC and throughout this region so that the Holy Spirit and Fire will burn away every hindrance and wash away every sin so that we may win the lost to Jesus, equip the saints, strengthen families, heal the sick, mend broken hearts, set free the captives and transform culture. Empower us as a mighty army to possess this land in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Dr. Larry & Judi Keefauver

Sunday, August 30, 2009

CMCA Celebrates 15 Years

CMCA Visits the MET in NYC. Photo by Bob Engelhardt

This Wednesday Catskill Mountain Christian Academy (CMCA) will begin its 15th year of academically excellent, intellectually stimulating and spiritually uplifting Christian education. Once again this year, a select group of parents will choose a more difficult road, sacrificing time and money, and acting contrary to their own personal comfort and the prevailing public opinion for the sake of their children. I honor all of those involved in CMCA, for their exceptional courage and commitment.

CMCA was formed to serve the purpose of helping parents to preserve their children's identities as Christians. It is our strategy to keep our children in a faith-filled environment while instituting a spirit of excellence in academic achievement. We at CMCA do not believe it is healthy for our children to be taught two versions of truth: one sacred and one secular. We believe that God should be completely integrated into the fabric of every area of our children's lives. Therefore CMCA is committed to educating children with a holistic view of all of life and truth being understood through the lens of Christian faith.

We do not deny other people the right to train their own children according to their values, but we feel it is a vital importance to give our children every chance to succeed in God's truth. Students of CMCA receive an unapologetic intermingling of biblical worldview with academics, something that understandably public schools cannot do. Separation of church and state is for the state to dispute, but it does not affect God's Word which instructs parents to "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).

In short, public schools, in order to respect diverse beliefs, diminish the relevance of spiritual truth in the minds of students. CMCA unapologetically teaches that God joyfully expresses His will to the human race through the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Holy Bible. This is the highest form of truth and should be celebrated in human life every second of every day. And that is why we happily open our doors next week to honor God by educating our CMCA children academically and 'in the Light'.

BTW: Our students continue to score above the national average on standardized testing including the all-important SATs.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ministry Week in Walla Walla

I had a great time of ministry last week with the Christian Life Center of Walla Walla, Washington. Led by Senior Pastor Bob Grimm and assisted by Pastor Lon Stokes and, my son, Pastor David Engelhardt, this growing church of 400 is a glowing example of a contemporary church committed to New Testament order, sound doctrine and the presence of the Holy Spirit. I was very impressed with the sense of expectation of growth and intelligent wisdom of their leadership team and the openness of the people (I was also impressed with the massive elk head mounted on the wall of Pastor Grimm's office).
Flying out from Albany early Tuesday, August 12th, I changed planes in Chicago and Denver before arriving in Pasco, Washington; and then after another hour on the road arrived at CLC in time to make their Tuesday night 'The Rising' youth service. CLC's expansive youth ministry, led by my son David, includes an 'off-the-hook' worship band and the hundred-or-so kids are as fired-up and expressive in worship as any I have seen. I shared the about the Tenth Leper (Luke 17) and the importance of lavishly expressing gratitude to God. Great time! Wednesday, David and I drove about three and a half hours out to Dworkshak State Park in Idaho to get settled in for CLC's annual Men's Camp. The scenic drive took us past the Clearwater and Snake Rivers, through many small and a few mid-sized towns in addition to some spectacular countryside of rolling hills covered with wheat fields. Notable were numerous historical landmarks of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition including the town of Lewiston, Idaho. At camp, I was provided with a nice camper-trailer that I affectionately dubbed the 'executive suite' while most of the other men stayed in cabins which were also pretty nice.

Thursday through Saturday was the Men's Camp. Several women of the church volunteer each year to come along and cook for this event, providing food that is just far too good to be called camp food. During the day the guys enjoyed recreation including swimming, boating and fishing on the forty-five mile-long Dworkshak Reservoir. Other activities included four-wheeling, archery, hiking and indoor ping pong, pool table and board games. Each evening after dinner was incredible worship led by David and his team and then I gave the teaching followed by prayer ministry. The younger late-night crew stayed up until the wee-hours playing cards and such.

On Thursday I had my first experience riding a four wheel ATV and quickly learned how this sport could easily become addictive. Literally riding over-the-river-and-through-the-woods, the feeling is sort of like a cross between a dirt bike and a snowmobile and is extremely fun. For awhile I felt like a kid again. I was also reminded what happens to men on motorized vehicles with no speed limit in place and no innocent bystander's safety to be concerned with-a race. No fighting it-it's just nature. As the newcomer to the sport (on Pastor Bob Grimm's personal machine), I really didn't stand a chance to win but I gave it a good go and enjoyed myself completely!

For my teaching series I started by sharing the theme Scripture for the week from 1 Peter 2: 9-10: But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. From this scriptural base I shared through the three days:

1. My personal story of faith.
2. The significance of the anointing.
3. Blind Bartimaeus and the unseen realm.
4. The crisis of unemployed manliness.
5. Genesis chapter one and the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
6. Cutting free from sin traps.

The men were challenged and encouraged and CLC provided a competent and anointed payer team to pray for the men who desired it after the sessions. This resulted in numerous very encouraging reports telling of breakthroughs for several of the nearly 70 guys in attendance. A man named Tom shared at Sunday morning service how he received prayer to be filled with the Holy Spirit and felt like there was an empty hole filled inside of him enabling him to understand the Scripture that says, "...out of your belly will flow rivers of living water (John 7:38)."

I rode back to Walla Walla after camp ended on Saturday afternoon with CLC associate Pastor Lon Stokes. Pastor Stokes is a seasoned man of God with over thirty years in various ministry assignments from leading a foster-care ranch to functioning as a senior pastor for over twenty years. He is a very good and godly man, and is also an avid outdoorsman and conservationist.

On Sunday morning I preached at both of CLC's main services, telling of the good things God has done here at CMCC, and encouraging the church to continue fighting the good fight of faith. Finally I presented a teaching on the principles of authority specifically for the CLC leadership team on Sunday evening and off to the airport and home on Monday... whew.It was a joy to see what God is doing in another church clear across the country and it is a pleasure to come home to the Catskills and participate in what God is doing here. I am unbelievably privileged to serve the Lord Jesus Christ-I daily walk in the knowledge of being chosen, royal, holy and special along with all those who trust in the name of Jesus. Jesus rescued my soul from despair absorbed my poisonous past and called me His friend. In my darkest night I found the brightest light.
See you Sunday,
Pastor Bob Engelhardt

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Holy, Chosen, Royal, Special

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10

I love this description proclaiming God's children: chosen, royal, holy and special. This is not simply feel-good apostolic lip service; it is a creative proclamation of the Word of God. It is the same technique God used creating the heavens and earth in Genesis; as if God is saying, "...let them be chosen, royal, holy and special." It is God speaking, "who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did." (Romans 4:17) In order to grow into God's purpose, all Christians should have this proclamation often on our lips and permanently tattooed on our minds: we are chosen, royal, holy, and special.

The Mystery of the Seed

In gardening, a seed packet may bear a photo of lovely red tomatoes but inside are crusty little pieces of grain that do not look anything like a tomato. Through faith we plant the odd looking particle in the ground and in time and under proper conditions, the seed will produce an amazing tomato factory. No one is surprised by this miracle, although to some alien not informed of the process it would have to seem absurd. How can such a thing be? An entire system for a reproductive tomato kingdom self contained in a tiny seed.

Faith as a Mustard Seed

That is how God's Word works. His words are spiritual seeds having the power to produce fruit in the lives of His people. The picture on the outside of God's seed packet is Jesus Christ, the perfect juicy red tomato we are to become like: chosen, holy, royal, special. His example and testimony serves as a vision and prophecy for our continuing growth and development.

Seeds and Sons

This scriptural proclamation correlates with John's Gospel where it says, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God..." (John 1:12) The children of God take on the identity of our adopted Father. We, who were not a people but are now the people of God, have been pronounced chosen, royal, holy and special and now we are actually becoming chosen, royal, holy and special. It is not by our will power or positive mental attitude; it is a transformation through faith in the Word of God.

This Scripture also serves as a warning sign. If we see that our lives are, instead of tomatoes, producing spiritual fruit more like lemons, poison ivy, thorns, weeds, cacti or briars, we have a problem. Instead of chosen, holy, royal, and special we feel ignored, low class, dirty and common, we are missing the point of becoming children of God. Honestly, growing up in Jesus' tomato patch is not always easy but it always has the same objective... to grow into the master's image. "Then He said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?9 "It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches." (Luke 13:18-19)

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Ten Lepers

Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. 13 And they lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" 14 So when He saw them, He said to them, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. 17 So Jesus answered and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18 "Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" 19 And He said to him, "Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well." Luke 17:11-19 (NKJV)

As with all of the recorded testimony of Jesus’ life and ministry there is much insight on many levels that can be found in the story of the ten lepers. In this short reflection, however, let us focus on one particular aspect. That is, not what was special about the one (which we will briefly refer to at the end), but what was the problem with the nine. Looking backwards it seems that they really missed the point. In fact, Jesus was absolutely incredulous over their ungratefulness.

Now, because Scripture doesn’t specifically identify the issues of each of the hearts of the nine ungrateful lepers, we are left to speculate and consider the possibilities. Jesus makes it clear that the appropriate response by all of the ten should have been to do as the one righteous foreigner, but nine out of ten didn’t. That is a daunting indictment of our human condition. Only one in ten reacted to Jesus goodness in a way that pleased Him.

Let us now offer nine commonly observed human responses that might help us understand why each of the others missed the mark. Maybe if we can see some of these tendencies in our own lives it may help us to respond to Jesus’ goodness in a way that pleases Him better. No child of God wants to end up being perceived by Jesus as an ingrate.

1. Perhaps the first leper was struggling with unbelief. He walked away from Jesus not sure if he was really being permanently healed or if it was just his own excitement making him feel better. This is the guy who, after receiving evidence of a healing or deliverance, waits for the leprosy to come back rather than giving thanks to Jesus. He was not enjoying the moment but anticipating failure. His heart did not naturally respond with faith and thanksgiving but with suspicion, doubt and unbelief.

We are each called to fight the fight of faith! Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" Mark 9:23-24.

When I was a twenty six year old spiritual leper, Jesus Christ blessed me with the cleansing power of His Holy Spirit. Even though it was a powerful, life altering baptism in God’s love and power, I recognized my responsibility to continue to believe His eternal work was done in me day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. There was a constant knowledge that without intentional faith and expressed gratitude I could become distracted enough to lose the wonderful blessing.

Jesus says in Mark chapter eleven that when we pray, if we believe we received it, we will have it. The way Jesus expected to be treated by all ten lepers for this miracle was through passionate thanksgiving. A sure way to express unbelief is to withhold thanksgiving waiting to see if the blessing sticks like leper number one.

2. Maybe the second leper felt somewhat grateful but was too embarrassed to approach Jesus and His entourage. This is a second-class, timid spirit that says things like, “He’s too busy for me… I’m too embarrassed to ask to see him… What am I going to say? I’m afraid... I’m just a little person… I’m not important enough to interrupt His meeting… I don’t like speaking in front of crowds… I don’t want to be rude.”

Although this common ‘aw-shucks-it’s-only-me’ talk has an outward appearance of niceness and self-deprecation it is really false humility rooted in fear and pride. In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) the servant who, out of fear, buries the money his master entrusts to him instead of investing it invokes a similar strong reaction from his master (You wicked and lazy servant…) as our nine ungrateful lepers invoke from Jesus. There is no acceptable reason not to openly and publicly lavish gratitude on Jesus when God visits with His blessing.

When God makes an investment in a person, bringing healing, salvation, freedom, prosperity, inner wholeness or any other good thing, He expects an immediate, lavish, public display of gratitude… it is simply the right thing to do. Thank you, Jesus. Everyone get out of my way while I interrupt your ‘religion’ with my gratitude!

3. I think that at least one of the nine lepers was so excited that he went to tell his family and friends the good news and forgot all about Jesus. I’ve seen this happen many times when, after praying for someone in a difficult or desperate situation, God amazingly answers the prayer and the person runs to tell their family and forgets to give Jesus credit other than sometimes a little half-hearted nod.

In the book of Micah, the Lord’s heart is grieving because of this kind of attitude among people: Woe is me! For I am like those who gather summer fruits, Like those who glean vintage grapes; There is no cluster to eat of the first-ripe fruit which my soul desires. Micah 7:1 The Lord is longing; His soul desires in this scripture to harvest the ‘first-ripe fruit,’ which is that immediate burst of joy and thanksgiving that comes off the human heart when something good happens. He is so fulfilled by our genuine gratitude that the Bible says He is “enthroned in the praises of Israel” (Psalms 22:3). That means that the more we rightfully praise Him, the more He takes control as sovereign King of our lives. But like our leper friend, many of us run to tell our wife, children, friends, co-workers and neighbor the good news and neglect for days or weeks giving thanks to the only one who actually deserves it. What a shame.

Truth be known, many people will not really enter into your joy anyway… friends often react with insensitive remarks of unbelief, jealousy or bitterness at a miracle or even find a way to turn the conversation to themselves. Many people are not deep enough to grasp the gravity of a genuine blessing from God and refuse to correlate and credit the situation to Jesus. The ‘first-ripe fruit’ of your joy and thanksgiving ends up wasted on people without ears to hear rather than filling the heart of the One who planted and tends the vineyard.

4. Perhaps the problem with another one of our nine unappreciative lepers could be that he attributed the healing to the priest rather than Jesus. Because Jesus sent him to show himself to the priest, he easily could have misinterpreted the source of healing power as being the old religious system rather than the new move of the Spirit. He probably considered Jesus a spiritual guy but couldn’t break from his prejudiced idea of his parent’s structured religious system being the only source of God’s true power. To personally honor Jesus, in his mind, was to disrespect his inherited religion.

Many thousands of people today are trapped in old religious systems of worship that literally separate them from God and prevent them from having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A dear friend of mine was a member of a large denomination and even though she was blessed, more than once, by the Holy Spirit’s tangible presence outside her church, she always recoiled back into the limitations of her denomination. Like our theoretical leper number four, she cried out to Jesus from afar off and when God answered her prayer, her religious pride and fear of the unknown rose up and she regressed even deeper into a church that offered no real life; only convoluted theology, dry sermonizing and no real power.

In fact, many times, inherited religious systems can be a decoy, offering beautiful human stage props to cover the fact that God has left them long ago. In the Scripture, Moses placed a veil over his face to hide the glory that was departing (2 Corinthians 3:13). Likewise, expensive buildings, medieval robes, academic elitism, awe inspiring music, impressive programs, glorious stained glass and thousands in attendance can put on a convincing imitation of God’s presence. Church can become like the Wizard of Oz; a man behind a curtain controlling a false manufactured memory of God with no real presence or power.

Jesus said: "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:7-8). There is a time where God expects every Christian to respond based on inner conviction and not like a spiritual Serengeti wildebeest during the annual migration. This fourth leper should have returned to Jesus and shown the same gratitude as the foreigner.

5. Maybe leper number five did not connect Jesus with the miracle. This guy just took the blessing and ran, considering it his good fortune, luck, natural healing, yin and yang, or coincidence. Many people are stingy in their willingness to acknowledge gratitude or express appreciation and would rather attribute a freely received gift to luck or fortune rather than expressing heartfelt appreciation to any man and/or admitting their poverty apart from an undeserved act of God’s mercy.

Jesus’ perturbed response to the absence of the nine ungrateful lepers reveals that they all missed something that should have been obvious: the principle of ‘a debt of gratitude.’ That is, when good is received, the right response is expressed thankfulness toward the giver of the good thing. In fact, in our day of fear of litigation, social hostility, situational morality and the nanny state, the godly concept of thankfulness has been lost as a widely celebrated virtue. Too many people stubbornly expect to be cared for and are not thankful when they do receive something good.

Leper number five did not acknowledge that his healing cost somebody something. Although he cried out with the others, “son of David, have mercy on us,” when Jesus did have mercy, the leper rejoiced in his own good luck. How many people cry out to God in a moment of despair and then reward only themselves when something good happens.

6. Theoretical leper number six considered it ridiculous for God to expect an emotional show of gratefulness. This attitude is the idea that being expected to openly express gratitude, praise and worship to God is undignified and makes God look selfish and egocentric. This leper is thinking, “Why would God want me to praise Him, anyway… what is He some kind of narcissist?” This leper thinks he is equally grateful just quietly feeling thankful in his heart, after all, “You can’t judge me, God knows my heart.”

Only a humble, unselfish person can truly lavish thanksgiving on God and others. False lavish thanksgiving usually comes off either shallow or ostentatious. Genuine thanksgiving is humble, lovely, pure, holy and powerful. It draws the grace and power of God.Leper number six, in his assessment that God couldn’t possibly care how people praise Him, has mistakenly anthropomorphized God, wrongly attributing to God the selfish, sinful nature of man. God is not a man, which is why He sent His Son as a man, on assignment to build a bridge and restore the broken relationship between us. Jesus came to clearly teach God’s created beings how we should respond to our creator when our hearts are right. He was reinforcing what was already clearly taught in the Psalms about expressing praise and thanksgiving openly and passionately.

In an automobile manual, the manufacturer authoritatively describes how their product should function when properly cared for. Jesus was authoritatively identifying malfunctioned human beings in this event. He clearly showed that when nine lepers did not respond with immediate, open gratitude, they were flat wrong and he was completely unsympathetic in His harsh assessment of their behavior as unacceptable. Their ‘idiot lights’ were shining brightly.

7. Leper number seven noticed that only the foreigner returned to thank Jesus but none of the other Jewish lepers so he wasn’t going to risk looking like a fool. He examples the person who says, “Our church doesn’t do it that way,” or “I’m not going to look like a fool and praise expressively because everybody will look at me.” This leper fears what people think of him more than caring about what God thinks of him. Even though he was a known leper, after being cleansed of a hideous disease he was too prideful to humble himself before Jesus. This is a follower-leper, a spiritual lemming who will never do anything dubbed uncool by the in-crowd.

The inner condition of this leper is not the same as number four, who did not return to Jesus because of his loyalty to his parents’ church. This leper was just concerned with peer pressure. He thought that people would laugh at him and call him a fool for being a Jesus freak. In the modern Christianity, this is the kind of believer that cares more about what public opinion polls say about the church than what Jesus says about the church.

When our church moved from a quiet country road in a remote area into the heart of the Village of Margaretville there were a number of uncomfortable church members. Although all of our members love our church and modern worship style, the thought of being publicly seen with these ‘Charismatics’ was painful for some. How many believers care more about looking cool than truly thanking Jesus?

Jesus said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?”

8. Leper number eight thought he wanted to be healed until it happened. He was crying out with the rest of the ten but never really expected to be cleansed because his life was built around his handicap, and therefore he perceived his healing as a burden rather than a blessing. He was content being unclean. He liked that people pitied him and did not expect him to grow, change, achieve or perform well. He was making a living and had social acceptance as part of a community of handicapped individuals. He was content at living in a sub-culture of lepers and the thought of being made whole was terrifying.

In John chapter five Jesus asks the infirmed man at the Pool of Bethesda if he wants to be made well. The question sounds odd until you realize that the man, lying on his bed, had been staying in his infirmed condition (at the healing pool) among a variety of other handicapped people for thirty eight years. How painfully revealing to think of how comfortable we can become with our own infirmities when we are accepted just the way we are.

Interestingly, the man does not quickly answer yes to Jesus’ question but explains that he’s waiting for an angel to stir the waters (a revival?) and there has been no one to help him in (an indictment against his local church?). Likewise, how many in the church claim to be waiting for a healing in their body, soul or circumstances but never hear the Holy Spirit through Jesus’ words to, “Rise, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8).

After joining Facebook I was disappointed at how many supposed Christians openly share off-color, unkind and inappropriate things. Unfortunately, like leper number eight, many do not really want to be cleansed. They do not fall at Jesus’ feet with thanksgiving because they do not really want to be that close to Him or adopt the purity, holiness and separation unto God’s purposes required. They think a dirty halo is kind of cool.

Leper number eight knew how to make a living as an unclean outsider but now had the new problem of learning how to function as a whole person. He defined his whole life based on his outer disease but it really masked his inner uncleanness, lack of motivation and laziness. After Jesus cleansed him, he no longer had this crutch or excuse for not accomplishing anything in life. “Oh great, now what am I supposed to do, go get a job?”

9. The ninth leper considered it against his personal code of conduct to bow before any man. This was the anti-organized church leper. He would give lip service to God as long as God stayed invisible but there was no way he was going to bow down before any human being. He would sound very pious and sanctimonious instructing people that it is wrong to give any man credit because, “After all, Jesus was just saying what God wanted Him to. As for me, I only worship God.” Whereas leper number five did not express gratitude to Jesus because he simply didn’t get the connection between the miracle and Jesus, this leper saw the connection but his personal theology (or bias) was against giving credit to man.

It is interesting that the righteous leper both glorified God and had no problem falling down at Jesus feet, giving Him thanks. Don’t forget, as the ‘Son of Man,’ Jesus was just as human as any member of our race. The good leper thanked the human whose voice spoke the power of God and Jesus affirmed his actions as right.

Prideful make-believers claim to love God but disrespect the Body of Christ, the Church. These modern lepers will not express thanks to Jesus by gratefully joining and submitting to His designated leadership team and the fountain head of His blessing. Jesus said to the human leaders that He had personally raised-up to establish His organized Church: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:23) Jesus gave the power of cleansing spiritual lepers to the Church. Withholding gratitude from those through whom God’s blessing flows is as wrong today as when Jesus walked.

10. We finally come to leper number ten, the righteous leper. He, “when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.”

  • When he saw... The good leper responded immediately. He did not wait for validation, confirmation or invitation. He was confident in his own personal assessment of the situation. He did not wait until tomorrow or until he had enough money to buy a gift or until he wrote a perfect speech. He instantly perceived, believed and embraced the miracle.
  • …that he was healed... His faith, powered by his anticipation after hearing of Jesus healing others, caused him to be absolutely certain he was healed. He was sure that God healed, completely and permanently.
  • …returned… He seemingly did not even make it to the priest to have the healing officially certified. He was inwardly compelled to return to Jesus and that was a higher, more urgent priority.
  • … and with a loud voice… No waiting to see how the Jewish lepers responded. No timidity, silent prayer, solemn worship, or embarrassment. No holding back or fear of looking uncool. On America’s Funniest Home Videos, among their collection of home movies there is a scenario where people give someone a fake winning lottery ticket as a gag. Almost universally the gagged person whoops and shouts when they think they’ve won a lot of money. Why is responding to God’s grace any different? Jesus indicated that all ten lepers should have known to respond boisterously and openly to this great blessing. That we would learn this lesson.
  • …glorified God… The healthy human heart accurately identifies God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). The pure hearted person can see God in the blessings and circumstances of life. The good leper recognized Jesus as an agent of God’s love and power. He glorified God and in doing so, testified of His life, goodness and power.
  • …and fell down on his face at His feet… The prostrate position is the position of utter humility, honor and submission. It is an expression of my leader’s superiority to me in every way and my utter loyalty to him and his kingdom. I am offering myself to you as a servant. I have nothing to bring but myself. The leper started out from afar but now boisterously barges into Jesus’ up-close presence, coming as near to the master as possible but humble enough to fall on his face at His feet. To stand while addressing Jesus would be to place himself on Jesus’ level, therefore he fell down before the Master in submission and bursting with gratitude.
  • …giving Him thanks… Thanking Jesus Christ is the self-evident, central, and natural activity of redeemed humanity. It is what all Christians who have been cleansed of spiritual leprosy should do all the time. It is the elders surrounding the throne in Revelation, falling down to worship over and over and over again. It is the only right thing to do given the gift we have received and the price that Jesus paid for it.
  • …and he was a Samaritan.” Everyone who cries out to Jesus is eligible for this blessing. Everyone, no matter how ‘far off’ they have been can be healed. Like our Samaritan leper, cry out to Jesus today.