Live Blogging from Worship God Conference

Our very own Worship Director, Chris Burke is writing a live blog reporting on the Worship God Conference taking place in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where he, Ilya Petushkov, Elia Phillips and Selina Castaneda are attending.

You can catch each report at our Rod&Staff blog (CVFirst Pastors Blog).

Please remember to pray for our brothers & sisters, that God would minister to their hearts and that they would develop a vision for passionate worship at CVFirst.

Atheism Alive and Well?

“So, are you an atheist?”

“A what?”

Let me say it again… “Are you an atheist?”

Of course not, but why not? Why would you not want to be an atheist? What makes you so special that you think you know everything – hey?

Confused yet? Too many questions?

Well, let me explain myself by taking you on a little church history journey. A few years before the public ministry of Christ a new and developing religion was alive and well in the Roman provinces – it was the Cult of Emperor Worship. The roots of the cult have to do with the celebrated accomplishments of Julius Caesar who was then ushered along the path toward being treated as a “god” by the Romans. Emperor worship continued with the nephew of Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar who built a temple in Rome to the “divine Julius”.

During the persecution of Christians the Imperial Cult was was an important aspect of that persecution. Everyone was required to participate in offering incense to the spirit of the Emperor, and upon doing so were given a certificate that they had in fact demonstrated their loyalty by sacrifice.

Of course, the Christians would not offer a sacrifice to the Imperial Cult “gods” and so were ferreted out from among the citizens as atheists.

So, let me ask you the question again… “Are we atheists?”

When it comes to bowing down before the “gods” of this world are we atheists?

Well, you might say, “I am not bowing down before a graven image,” so what is the big deal. Well, anytime we put something before God it becomes an idol for us. In fact, our hearts, left to themselves, are factories that produce idols — our desires, lusts and wants. Every time we give in to those idols we are no longer atheists, but fully fledged believers that in satisfying those desires, lusts and wants we will find lasting fulfillment. But of course, in so doing, we have substituted true satisfaction and fulfillment that can only be found in Christ for that which is empty.

So, the sovereign God of the universe actually wants us to be atheists, not in relation to Him, but in our belief in anything and everything else other than Him: Money, Sex, Pornography, Marriage, our Children, our Jobs, Sports, etc…

So, let’s do everything to keep our Atheism alive and well – and to keep our focus where it needs to be — on our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Keep Running…It Is Worth It!

Life and ministry can be very difficult at times. Often we can wonder if those under our care and influence are getting it. We know that God promises that in all of our ministry He is at work…even when we don’t know it or think that we are not getting anywhere. We teach, pray, share our hearts and ultimately people choose their path and it isn’t always what we want it to be. We wonder, “What could I have done differently?”, or “How could I have reached into their heart and affected some measure of change.” These are often the things we take to our pillows at night.

God smiled on me a while back when out of the blue I received this e-mail from a young lady who used to be in my Youth Group. My wife and I loved on her through the Word and in person, so it is a great encouragement to us…

I share this with you to encourage you to press on…because God is at work…

Pastor Rod & Elia,

Hi, I don’t know if you remember me, but I certainly remember you both very well as well. I was in the youth group at First Baptist West Seneca when you were ministering there. And we went on the college trip together, with about 8 other teens and you also took us to Canada’s wonderland the one time, I don’t know if you remember me, but I just had a burden to contact you to thank you for your ministry in my life. Pastor Rod, I see that you are now a Senior Pastor, I’m confident that you are a wonderful one!

I would love to hear from you, but I understand that you are busy. Like I said, I felt as if I HAD to write you and thank you, I cannot tell you how often I think about you two. Thank you for loving the unlovely! Also I’m sorry for being difficult for you. I’m sure that you are not dwelling on it, but I’m very embarrassed of my behavior back then. I hope that you are all well and I hope to hear back from you.

Love in Christ,

Of course, the name is left out, but I read this often to remind me that God works in spite of me. That someone would take the time to seek me out and then write an e-mail like this is a divine way of encouraging me.

It also reminds me to press on and keep running with those under my care…and to do it faithfully and leave the results up to Him.

Music – Bolivian Style

It was almost ten years ago I had the privilege to visit with my good friends Matias & Mery Mohicas-Brooks. Matias & Mery are nationals in the country of Bolivia and Matias serves as pastor and overseer of seven churches in and around the city of Santa Cruz and the mountain valley region near Samaipata. On one of the evenings we had a special treat, a Christian Band that played their music and song in a strictly Bolivian style. I was amazed at the beauty of this music and still love to listen to it.

So, I thought that I would share it with you. It isn’t much to watch, but it is beautiful to listen to. The recorder (wooden flute) is especially pretty…So, sit back or keep browsing, but be sure to Enjoy.

Doofonics!

Have you ever felt like a doofus? I mean, have you ever been speaking to someone or a group and then when the words came out it sounded more like you had eight marbles in your mouth and what you were saying was totally incomprehensible? Now what you wanted to say was germain to the problem and would have had profound significance, but no, not this time because your mouth refused to cooperate. It has a mind of its own and it wants independence from your brain, so it conjures up some other jumble of letters to form its own language – let’s call it “Doofonics“…

Here are some examples of what I mean that come to mind…

  • In stead of greeting a coworker with, “Good Morning” I said… “Good Maaumaa” (funny, huh!)
  • Rather than yelling out at my son’s basketball game, “Pass the Ball” everyone is looking at me funny when they heard me say, “Pass the bill.” (knucklehead, right?)
  • While preaching on David freeing the Ark of the Covenant and disobediently placing it on a cart, throughout the whole message I was referring to the “cart on the ark.” It is amazing that my congregation didn’t just bust up laughing or somehow correct me… I guess they didn’t want me to feel like a doofus in public!

It reminds me of a famous line from the film, the Princess Bride, “Mawwiage is wot bwings us togevvar“, which I long to say at a wedding one day, but in reality, I fear that I will say something far worse!

So, I am here to acknowledge that I am officially a doofus. (yeay me!) I admit it and am always humbled by it. And, I am very appreciative of the definition of “doofus” at http://www.dictionary.com which says that “a doofus is an incompetent and stupid, though well-meaning, person.” Did you get that “well-meaning” part. I mean, is there some grace that can cover a doofus moment? Can we laugh about it? Can we be honest and say that we all struggle with doofonics at times and are willing to lump ourselves into the doofus camp when doofonics gets the better of us?

Now, I will say at the outset that, for me much of my doofonics can be attributed to a physical problem that I have been plagued with all through my life. I suffer from sever mouth sores that ultimately cause my gums, cheek, tongue or lips to flare up, which means that I have to work really hard on my voice and diction. But, sadly, this can also create a habit, a bad habit, of speaking in that way all of the time. However, I recognize that there are plenty of doofus moments in my life regardless of my physical struggles…

So…..Is there any hope for a doofus? Is there any hope for me…for you? Well, I do think that Scripture has some things to say about it for sometimes our doofonics happens when we are motivated in the wrong ways, are lazy with our mouths or are wanting to impress (there’s irony for you!).

Here are some verses to think through…

  • “…everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak…” James 1:19
  • “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” Proverbs 25:11
  • “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” Proverbs 15:28
  • “The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; the one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

Now, I am not saying that being a doofus = being wicked or a fool. It is the other side of these comparison proverbs that interests me and I think will be a help to all of us doofus’. Maybe, just maybe, the reason we experience doofonics is because we are not slow to speak, are not pondering how to answer or because we allow our mouth to pour out rather than be guarded.

I know what its like when I am in a conversation with a small group and I want to get my words in so I wait for that brief lull, a split second of silence, and fire in my words only to find them all garbled and incomprehensible. Too often I am sucked in by how important my words are to the conversation, when I should have stepped back and pondered what I was thinking…

  • “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” 1 Corinthians 6:12

Many times, our doofonic moments come from being mastered by how important we think our words (contribution to the conversation) are. That’s an issue of pride that has gripped the heart. And somehow, I wonder if there is a purposeful Divine Humor going on at these moments. It wouldn’t surprise me…

So, fellow doofus’ (doofi or doofum) let’s be honest…and join the club!

Affections of the Religious Kind…

This past week I was challenged over at www.challies.com to participate in “Reading the Classics” with others around the blogosphere, and the current book sitting on our lap is Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. Now, Jonathan Edwards is not necessarily an easy read, so reading it along with others, discussing the arguments and conclusions that Edwards presents with others, for me, will be extremely rewarding.

Now, you might want to click the link above and get on board with us. Also, I will be posting some comments that Edwards makes with some of my thoughts mingled in and we can have some of our own discussions around those thoughts.

So, to begin, I want to post a paragraph from the preface… (online link the whole preface here)

“It is no new thing, that much false religion should prevail, at a time of great reviving of true religion, and that at such a time multitudes of hypocrites should spring up among true saints. It was so in that great reformation, and revival of religion, that was in Josiah’s time; as appears by Jer. 3:10, and 4:3, 4, and also by the great apostasy that there was in the land, so soon after his reign. So it was in that great outpouring of the Spirit upon the Jews, that was in the days of John the Baptist; as appears by the great apostasy of that people so soon after so general an awakening, and the temporary religious comforts and joys of many: John 5:35, “Ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.” So it was in those great commotions that were among the multitude, occasioned by the preaching of Jesus Christ; of the many that were then called, but few were chosen; of the multitude that were roused and affected by his preaching, and at one time or other appeared mightily engaged, full of admiration of Christ, and elevated with joy, but few were true disciples, that stood the shock of the great trials that came afterwards, and endured to the end. Many were like the stony ground, or thorny ground; and but few, comparatively, like the good ground. Of the whole heap that was gathered, great part was chaff; that the wind afterwards drove away; and the heap of wheat that was left, was comparatively small; as appears abundantly, by the history of the New Testament. So it was in that great outpouring of the Spirit that was in the apostles’ days as appears by Matt. 24:10-13. Gal. 3:1, and 4:11, 15. Phil. 2:21, and 3:18, 19, and the two epistles to the Corinthians, and many other parts of the New Testament. And so it was in the great reformation from Popery. It appears plainly to have been in the visible church of God, in times of great reviving of religion, from time to time, as it is with the fruit trees in the spring; there are a multitude of blossoms, all of which appear fair and beautiful, and there is a promising appearance of young fruits; but many of them are but of short continuance; they soon fall off, and never come to maturity.”

So, Edwards stresses that with the true outpouring of revival among God’s faithful there typically seems to be a counterfeit that competes with and often overshadows that which is true revival. Simply the evidence of immediate fruit is not a sure-sign of genuine revival or conversion.

Now this might be difficult for us because we have become so accustomed to the “sales pitch” evangelism which simply wants to get someone over the line and make a decision. Understanding this, are we satisfied and then lazy at this point of our Gospel presentations, or are we persevering, aware that many who profess an allegiance to Christ are not truly His children, but are in stead having some kind of “religious experience?” Certainly that is what Edwards is identifying. During each revival there were many, if not most, who had all the appearance of conversion, but that was all it was, an appearance.

This drives me to my knees. It causes me to ask the hard questions. As I look at my heart do I find myself being one of those “followers of Christ” who were simply enamored with His miracles, astonished at His teaching, and aware that something extremely profound and religious was taking place before my eyes? Or am I part of the remnant who, when Jesus said, “deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me” left all to embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior.

It is so easy to be religious, and to be religious with all of our emotions in full gear, and yet be far or even alienated from God. For my own soul’s sake I want to press on and preach the Gospel to my heart again and again. Not that I believe I need to be saved again, but to anchor my heart in who Christ is, my desperation without Him and the joy that comes in knowing that, in spite of my sinfulness, I have been drawn by a holy God to be His child forever…

Questions! Questions!

Today I had the privilege to serve on an ordination council for William Dudding III, pastor at Mission Peak Baptist Church in Fremont. He did well and we were happy to recommend him to his church for ordination. During the questioning one of my fellow council members asked a question that I have been pondering….so here it is…

Genesis 3:8-13 in the NASB says…

8They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The question posed is this…

Why does God ask questions?

Now, think about it… Does God really not know the answer to the questions? Is He relying on our truthfulness to give Him the facts because He can’t tell the future?  Is God so helpless that He must come to us for knowledge?  Well, no. God is omniscient – He knows everything. Not only that, He tells us in His Word that He ordained everything before the world was created. In other words, He knows what is going on and what will take place, what we are thinking and what is true. So, why would He waste His time (at least from a human perspective) to ask us a question when He already knows the answer?

Here is a clue from the book of proverbs…

5 A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water,

But a man of understanding draws it out. (Prov. 20:5)

How can I know what is in a man’s heart? A man of understanding draws it out…but how? One answer is “by asking questions that reveal what is resident inside the heart of man.

How do you seek to know someone? One way is to ask questions…to draw out from them what is truly going on in their heart.

Now, the reality is that we already know what I have just said. So we salve our consciences by asking gentle questions: “How is your day going?”, “How is the family?”, “Are you still swinging the clubs?”… Yes, these questions get you somewhere, but they don’t get you far. They help keep our relationships at that superficial level and they won’t do much to produce a greater depth in our relationships…

How about asking some more penetrating questions like…

  • Tell me what God has been teaching you in your quiet time today?
  • What specific trial, sin or struggle can I pray with you about?
  • What attribute of God have you been strengthened by recently?

I am sure that you can come up with some better questions…but maybe the question at this point should be…

Do we really care about the answers to those questions?  Do we care what is in man’s heart?  Or are we simply satisfied with the superficial?  Maybe we just don’t want to “go there” because we have our agendas and schedules – getting to know someone…to really know them just takes too much time!

God, on the other hand, truly cares and really wants us to tell him what is in our hearts…  He doesn’t play games with us…

So, maybe we should pay attention when God asks us questions — and then, in pure honesty answer Him, knowing that He already knows and only wants us to reveal what is in our hearts truthfully and trustingly.

News From Jamie in Russia

Here is a short report from Jamie Atkinson who is serving in Ufa, Bashkortostan this summer…

Well we just got back to Ufa from the first camp. We went to Emilia’s house for dinner and showers. It’s so nice to actually be clean! Right now Emilia, Indera, Jake, Olya, Melinda and my self are all here at the offices sending out emails to everyone.

There is so much to say about the first camp. For as much as it is the same, it’s that much different. And it was deffinately not what we expected. For starters all of the leaders, but one, are much younger than last year and for the majority of them this was the first time as councelers and teaching the Bible. Melinda and I got to the camp the weekend before the camp started….and we got the help train the leaders for teaching the Bible lessons…deffinately not what we expected!!! And that was only the start of the differences that we faced. Unfortunately I can’t write much because of time…we’re about to leave to go to a cafe.

Jake and Olya head back to Moscow Sunday morning…and in the evening Melinda, Emilia, Indera and I will be going back to the camp for the second term.

Please continue to keep us in your prayers. The we’ll be working with older kids who have a tendancy to be more rebellious to leadership. Most of the leaders from the first camp will be leading the groups in the second, we’ll be having fewer leader this second term. Everyone is getting really tired, please pray that we wont get burnt out, and please pray for the opportunities that arise for ministry.

Melinda and I have had an amazing opportunity to witness to our hired translator as she asks us MANY challanging questions about the lessons that she is translating for us. Please pray for her as she is searching for answers, and please pray that Melinda and I will have the wisdom to answer the questions that she has.

Well, even though there is so much more to say I have to go…everyone is getting impatient and jokes are starting to fly.

Please forgive the grammar and spelling, my mind has been trying to understand Russian and I now think in the English the way that our translators speak…I’m so brain fried!!!

Hopefully I’ll be able to write more tomorrow.

Much Love.

Jamie…keep up the good work.  We are praying for you…

Good Humor

No…I’m not taking about Ice Cream! I am talking about good humor that makes me laugh and doesn’t have to lean toward profanity or sensuality. Well, if you are looking for that kind of humor then let me introduce you to Brian Regan. He is considered to be a “clean comedian” and makes me roll every time I hear him…

Here is a video on “Flying” to start you off…

Let me know what you think…there will be more coming in then next few weeks…

Enjoy

Culture Bubble

This is continuation of sorts concerning how our cultures affect how we live our lives, especially, in ways that we may not even be aware of. So indulge me as I share a personal insight from one of my trips to the land of Russia two years ago.

I was sitting in the apartment of our translator, Emilia, whose mother had laid out a spread of tasty foods. Emilia’s sixteen year old sister, Irena, sat at the table with us. As we all talked It became clear to me that Irena was extremely cosmopolitan and that as a sixteen year old she had freedoms that I wouldn’t dream of giving my sixteen year old son, let alone daughter.

Now a little context is in store. We were in the city of Ufa which is in the Bashkortostan Oral (like a state). It is a large city of 1.2 million and has a busy and bustling public transportation system. In this city people mostly live in high rise apartments (moderate standards at best from an American perspective) and literally flood out at all hours of the day to the streets, bus stops, trolley systems, trains and taxi’s waiting to pick them up. Very few people have their own cars, so public transportation is relied on heavily.

So, here is where the story rocked my world a bit and I began to think of our different cultures and their affect on us. Irena told me that she has been riding the bus, trolley, train and even using the taxi since she was ten. It seemed quite normal to her and to her sister Emilia.

So, let’s step back and think about this for a minute… You are a loving and caring father or mother living in a large city in Russia and you are o.k. with your ten year old daughter leaving the safety of the high rise apartment, riding on the rickety elevator to the ground floor (passing by the homeless and drug addicts that may be parked out in the stair well), entering the ant-like world of people going who knows where, rubbing shoulders with all sorts of people, navigating buses, trains and taxis and not returning for a few hours, even after it is dark.

Now, let’s bring this into my California context. I live in a house in the hills of Hayward near Cal State East Bay. When I finally give in to one of my children’s desire to go to a friend’s house, visit the mall or stop by Jamba Juice (if you don’t have JJ near you, you simply have to move to California) we leave the safety of our home and cul-de-sac to the safety of our minivan. Then we travel on the roads with relative safety, because in our country the lines painted on the roads actually mean something. When we get to our destination we park in relative safety, trusting the video camera systems and walk hastily into the store or location of our choice where we breathe a sigh of relief that we are safe once again. Then, when we are done, we make our dash back to our vehicle keeping a panoramic and cautionary eye on the parking lot, then in the safety of our vehicle once again we go back to the safety of our home.

We have hardly rubbed shoulders with other people, we have kept our distance and are satisfied that we are having a fruitful existence in our American Suburban world. In fact, what little communication we have had is limited to our own conversations with those who are part of our party, a courteous welcome from a Wal-Mart Worker, a grumpy conversation with a cashier and numerous bumper stickers that let each person living in their self created bubble what they believe or love.

So, the question to ask is this: How does our culture affect our fleshing out God’s calling to be a church living in the world but not of the world? How can we be faithful witnesses when our “rubbing shoulders” with society is limited to a trendy and corny bumper sticker?

Have we allowed our culture to create a “bubble” of sorts that is pulling us away from reaching out to others? I am not talking about a bubble due to Christian principles or standards, but a bubble that we might  not even recognize is there because it is so much a part of our comfortable and safe lifestyles.