21 September 2017

Introducing Jeff Lucas

ra“Too Honest for the Church!” “Too honest for the Church” – this is how one pastor described Jeff Lucas, and it is not hard to understand why. This is a man who graciously and lovingly tries to tell the church how things really are. He speaks about real issues in a real world, and challenges the church to respond in a relevant and meaningful way, just like Jesus did. Jeff sees the irony in being accused of being ‘too honest’ in seeking to follow Jesus who called himself ‘The truth’.

We live in a world that is sadly messed up by sin and far removed from what God intended. Short of abandoning this world and living in seclusion and isolation, how can we be ‘in the world’, but not ‘of the world?’ This is the sort of question for which Jeff loves to teach the church a biblical response – how to hold in tension the need for holiness while demonstrating the unconditional love of the Father through grace.

Following the publication of Jeff’s latest book entitled, There are No Strong People, which deals with the life of Samson in a refreshingly open and honest way, we wanted to interview Jeff about his whole approach to church life, prior to his forthcoming visit as a speaker at the Elim Bible week in July.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Jeff, he is a well known author and speaker who travels widely as a Bible teacher with a specific vision to encourage and equip the church. Originally a church planting pastor, Jeff understands the dynamics of local church life and has a desire to “build” rather than simply “bless” as he teaches and preaches. Jeff is the author of eighteen books, as well as a number of study guides, booklets and a DVD teaching series called, Life Journeys. He writes daily Bible notes for CWR (Crusade for World Revival) – Lucas on Life Every Day, and this is something that Jeff would love to see reaching a wider audience. The purpose of the notes is to nudge people towards getting their noses and hearts into the Bible. Biblical illiteracy is still huge and deeply concerns Jeff. His fear is that as a church we do not actually engage in studying the Bible as opposed to reading daily notes. He says, “There is a need to beware of a ‘fast food’ approach to Bible study. I am constantly challenged by how many Christians get taken in by falsehood that sounds attractive.”

Jeff and his wife Kay live in Loveland, Colorado, where he holds a teaching post at Timberline Church, Fort Collins. Jeff says of the church that, “it is fairly unusual because in terms of attendance it is probably about 10,000 people who would call the church their church, but it is in a relatively small city of only about 140,000. This is not a ‘Bible belt’ area so it’s a large saturation of people from the city who come to the church.”

Jeff likes to point out that, “large churches are not necessarily successful ones. What we need are healthy churches. A large church can be healthy but so can a small one, and visa versa.” As a church they do not want to become victims of the fact that in the past things have gone quite well. They continue to ask searching questions, in light of the somewhat unnerving statement from Jesus in the book of Revelation about how churches see themselves relative to how Jesus sees them. “We can have quite a capacity for self-deception and thinking we’re stronger than we are,” comments Jeff. This is one of the reasons for writing the book on Samson, the desire to get people to not just run their eye over the print in their Bibles, but to really equip them and get them to apply it to their lives.

Jeff, what inspired you to write the book, There are No Strong People?

“I was inspired to write it because we tend to categorise people as either strong or weak, good or bad. Most people are neither monsters nor saints – they fall somewhere in between. The danger of thinking we’re quite good is that we are then stunned and surprised when we find how capable we are of doing something quite bad. We can all be very critical when a Christian leader falls and we say it could never happen to us. I believe the reality for some people that they haven’t had an affair is not because they are moral, but rather they just haven’t had the opportunity! My theory is – most of us could have an affair, given a set of conspiring circumstances, the right emotional conditions and the right level of fragility in our own marriages. Samson is written off by most Christian commentators as being a useless failure, and yet is celebrated by the Jewish community and also apparently by God, since he shows up in Hebrews chapter 11. So there is obviously a different way of looking at people that I think we need to embrace.”

“It’s not that we are strong or weak but that our strengths have component weaknesses in them. Samson was a man of secrets and he was a secretive man. The compassionate person who becomes a pushover for manipulation, or the single-minded leader who becomes an aggressive controller of a congregation, these are all component weaknesses in their strengths.”

“The book has a lot to say about sexuality which as Christians we often struggle with even talking about. People often say we need the Word of God and nothing else. Well this is in the Word, and its a message we need to understand if we are to be of any use in the world. We need to view such open conversations as both helpful and redemptive. This is a book that should be read even if we initially find it uncomfortable.”

What message would you want to share with those who feel they have ‘messed up’ too much?

“As far as I can understand the Christian message, it is not possible to have ‘messed up’ too much. Jesus says all manner of sins can be forgiven. There is no message in the Samson story that says that sin doesn’t matter, it screams that actions have consequences. It tells us that addictions will creep up on us, and what we play with will make a plaything of us. However the message is also one of an outrageously gracious God who works on ‘rubbish dumps’. God is a redeemer, He is not an endorser. The fact that God can use those we perceive as charlatans confuses us. TV preachers, who appear to be out for money and effectively selling indulgences, which we know to be lies, yet the wonderful, but occasional irritating thing is, that people will be healed, and it will be real and it will be of God!”

“There is a sense in which God’s grace is so amazing it appears to have an acute lack of discernment. God comes running where He finds hungry people. His activity in our lives does not imply His endorsement of every idea, just that He is actively at work in our rubbish dump. This is both liberating and challenging, because I think leaders can think that the blessing of God implies the endorsement of God, but it doesn’t. Samson goes off to marry a Philistine woman which is clearly prohibited in Scripture and yet we read that God was in it. So what is God up to? God is not the architect of Samson’s foolishness but He’s the redeemer of it.”

Remember how Israel asked for a King, which was their worst ever decision, but God gave them Saul, then David and then Solomon, out of which comes Jesus, out of which comes the cross and our redemption. It is so typical of God, He just keeps turning things around.”

“I have given up trying to be the ‘totally together’ Christian leader because I almost had a breakdown trying to do it. So if I tell people that I occasionally wonder if there is a God, or that I fall asleep when I pray, they are liberated by that truth. Hopefully it sets them free, because we are all fed up with ‘Disneyland Christianity’.”

How would you instruct a church trying to deal with people who have ‘messed up’ and continue to ‘mess up’?

“The most frequently misquoted verse in Scripture must be, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged.’ We have four or five other texts in the New Testament where believers are called to make judgements. It’s not about any of that. It’s about being willing to have a strong biblical and ethical call while being a messy people who don’t expect sinners to clean up in 10 minutes and who don’t freak out and go running to the pastor saying, “Standards are dropping, look who we have coming to the church.” We actually want people from every lifestyle and background to travel with us.”

“Our problem is not – if they come; but – if they stay! We tend to get quite excited if people with messy lives come along because there is actually a possibility in a few weeks time there might be a testimony. It’s when they stay we have the problem – because that requires patience! Timberline was changed as a church because a stripper showed up, and then brought along 18 of her friends from the strip club to her baptism. It was the fact that those people with all of their muck and mess, became part of the church – that’s what began the transformation. So in the real church there will always be mess but mess does not mean a lack of clarity or call.”

“It is very difficult for churches that rightly prioritise holiness because they will have a missiological problem. They have to try to hold in tension their doctrine of holiness with the mess that is being missional. I don’t know what the solution is for a church which has a strong circle of church membership. People can appear fine at a superficial level whereas the truth is, none of us are fine. Scripture shows us a messy church. Paul had to write and say things like, “it would be a great idea if leaders were the husband of only one wife and did not get drunk,” because in the church there were people practicing those things, who wanted to be leaders. We read those verses through our 21st Century holiness grid. We need to realise that there are different expectations on the disciples and the crowd.

If you want to be a leader in the church there are ethical demands that are placed upon you. If you want to be publicly associated with the Jesus crowd, if you are sleeping with your step-mother in Corinth, you’re going to get a letter, because it’s not good! This is not about not having a strong ethical core, because that doesn’t say anything either and the salt just loses its savour.”

How can the church be seen to take sin and repentance seriously while offering unconditional forgiveness, repeatedly?

“The church has done quite well on the repent message, but the problem with grace is that a thoroughly biblical approach to grace normally exposes the person who espouses it to the accusation of being a liberal. Grace is so scandalous at its root. I’m just so glad that God is kinder and more generous than a lot of His people are. The elder brother issue (ref, the Prodigal Son parable) is the easiest way to cancel the party. Until we truly understand grace and how outrageous grace is, this question will always be a problem.”

At the Elim conference the theme is ‘Wondrous’, what does this mean to you?

It’s always good for Christians to get together especially to be surprised again. To rediscover their sense of astonishment and to celebrate the truths and realities that often become forgotten and to be amazed by grace. I know those who attend will be coming with a real appetite for God’s word and will not leave disappointed.