Category Archives: 51. Involved In Ministry

Involved in Ministry (Sunday)—Acts 8:26-40

I recall Henry Blackaby’s counsel from His excellent Experiencing God study: “To find the will of God for your life, look around, see what God is doing, and get involved in it. That remains wise counsel, but on this particular day, the Lord was not leaving the discovery of His will to Phillip’s powers of observation alone. He used an angel to issue a directive, “Go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” The next thing we know, the Holy Spirit Himself is saying, “Go up and join the chariot.” Once Phillip engaged the driver of that chariot, he found what God had been doing. He discovered the eunuch was a reader and simply asked him how that was working out. It was not long before this foreigner was a member of the family of God.

Why do some come to Christ and others do not? If this story is representative of God’s ways, it is pretty obvious that people come to Christ because the Good Shepherd, using His disciples, supernaturally rounds up the lost and leads them into the fold. The story reveals to what extent God is willing to go in rescuing lost sheep.

He used the supernatural to maneuver Phillip and the eunuch into close proximity and then He used the most natural of means, Phillips’s ability to engage the man in a conversation. When Phillip was trying to determine what God had been doing, He did so by inquiring as to what questions were churning inside the man’s heart.

Don’t you know Phillip’s heart leapt when he discovered that the man just happened to be reading about Jesus, the Suffering Servant in Isaiah? Phillip was able to relate that the One he had been reading about had just recently come to earth from heaven as a sacrificial Lamb and left as the resurrected King, securing eternal life for all those who would simply believe that He was the Son of God.

Note: This paragraph presumes you read yesterday’s post. Our passage today strongly reinforces the doctrines of “election” and “the sovereignty of God,” foundational biblical truths. However, when these doctrines are regularly fed to and incorporated into a Sunday-Wednesday-spectator Christian culture, in which discipleship is optional, I think our mission as ambassadors gets derailed.

Trusting in God’s sovereignty in having brought things to this arrangement where professionals do the bulk of ministry overlooks God’s sovereignty in bringing all of us into our own unique network of people—people that the professionals at HQ are not equipped geographically or relationally to reach.

I believe God wants us to recover our initiative as individual Kingdom citizens and envoys that are honoring God’s sovereignty by recognizing where He has intentionally placed us within our own unique existing networks of relationships. I believe He wants us to see our hearts and our networks as the front lines of the kingdom of God.

Another besides Henry Blackaby attempting to re-commission the saints into ministry is Dr. Bruce Wilkinson. His book, You Were Born For This makes a great biblical argument, within a “reformed” theological framework, that we have all been sovereignly maneuvered, with angelic and Spirit assistance (like Phillip), to arrive where we currently are, fit geographically and spiritually into networks of people who have questions rumbling around inside them that we alone are positioned hear. The book provides numerous accounts, no less fantastic than Phillip’s, that demonstrate that God’s supernatural resources are available to reach out to the “one and 99’s” who are everywhere around us. The only question is in regards to our wineskin mindsets. Have we been conditioned to attend church or to go out into the ripe fields where we have been placed to make disciples?

An application of this passage is right in front of us. Jim Branch’s Blue Book has been placed in the hands of many. Some of us have been coming together regularly and asking each other, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Over time a priceless dialogue has resulted. Safe spaces have been created where we have given each other permission to be ourselves. Networks have been identified. Members of those networks are taking ownership and investing into these holy friendships. Hearts have grown closer to each other and to God. This was accomplished because a few people took the initiative to reach out with this unique devotional.

Father, deliver us from the notion that “ministry” is for professionals and that we are here to just attend church, cast our votes and pay a tithe in behalf of others who actually do the work. We pray that You would even use the Blue Book network to help us and others discover our identities as sons and ambassadors, reclaiming our unique destinies as those who tear down strongholds and destroy the lofty speculations that exalt themselves above the knowledge of God. Grant us ears to hear. Grant us courageous hearts to respond to Your voice that is calling us out past our comfort zones. Help us to see that our choices are essential in the mysterious outworking of Your sovereignty. And may we see a great harvest of new kingdom sons and citizens. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Involved in Ministry (Saturday)—Matthew 28:16-20

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

There are wonderful exceptions to this—but, often, perceived success in fulfilling the great commission is tallied when red-hot zealots arise from the lukewarm pack and heed the call to full-time ministry. They make preparation and ultimately find their way into professional ministry posts as missionaries or pastors. The Body of Christ then looks to these called ones as their leaders. In many models, they, in turn, spend their lives preaching the gospel in order to save souls from hell and preserve them, through church involvement, for heaven. But, with this paradigm, how are we doing in the making disciples department?

As hard as professional clergy may try, it is nearly impossible for them to prevent an us versus them culture, with us being the called professionals and them being the less-called un-professionals. This mindset promotes a crippling option: that one can be a disciple who is actively engaged in ministerial activity or that one can be a mere believer who attends church. If the adage is true that 20% of the people do 80% of the work, then the effect of this error is that 80% of the army has not been commissioned. Infecting the Body of Christ with the notion that one can possess saving faith without being a disciple has been one of the enemy administration’s most effective strategies.

The original mandate to make disciples has effectively been derailed by an idea that has gone largely unchallenged within western traditions of Christianity. Consequently, many Bible-believing followers have been breaking away from traditional churches to engage in missional communities where the assumption is that all are called and that the primary mission of leaders is to recognize this and equip them all as disciples through their teaching and the example of their own lives. Does seminary or Bible college equip people to lead in this way? Jesus said, “As I am, so are you in this world.”

While Pastor and the gospel have their place, I can see a day when the disciple and the Kingdom will have theirs. A disciple is nothing more than a person in whose heart Christ’s kingdom is operative and expanding. The Kingdom of God is simply that domain of activity where Christ’s government is prevailing. This is why Jesus said, in Him, the kingdom of God had come. This is why He said the kingdom of God is within us.

The leader who deconstructs the us vs. them and the disciple vs. attender-wineskin myth is partnering with the kingdom of God. The leaders who are helping believers discover their identities in Christ and laying hold of their kingdom destinies are partnering with God’s grand kingdom objectives. The leader who is intentionally helping believers discover their individual giftings and helping them to see how relevant and essential they are to their immediate network of souls is making disciples and fulfilling the Great Commission mandate. When believers become disciples who recognize they are here only temporarily and that they were born for such a time as this, the prevailing influence over this planet will shift from the Prince of this world to Lord of Life and King forevermore.

Father, we acknowledge that you have commissioned us as ambassadors to make disciples in all nations. Help us to prepare by living out Your life in our neighborhoods and our networks. Help us to see our wineskins from Your perspective. May Your Kingdom become our reality and govern our lives that the world may see Your glory upon us and credit You for the miracle. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

 

Involved in Ministry (Friday)—II Corinthians 5:11-21

The reading of this passage has provoked some thinking that I usually avoid in conversation because of the fact that whatever “skin” we are in, when it comes to a discussion of  “wineskins,” our skin is typically pretty thin. I think of wineskins as the paradigms we have and the perceptions we use to explain reality to ourselves. So within the Church, our wineskins are the individual and collective thought structures in which we attempt to contain the life of God. Every human has one. And the simple fact that we each believe we came by ours honestly (or even sovereignly), makes them nearly, if not completely, sacred. And what is sacred must be protected. Thus the thin skin. Thus our division.

The combination of yielding to His Word, imperfectly to be sure, through 64 years of experience and trials, some of which He appointed, most of which I created, all of which He has redeemed (or is redeeming), is how my wineskin has been shaped and is being painfully reshaped. (Note: I have not been a Christian for 64 years. However, His light shining retroactively on the first 23 years, when I was stumbling through the darkness without Christ, has been one of the most redeemed and instructive aspects of my life.) While my story does not reflect “perfected” theology, neither do I have to apologize for it.  Even in my imperfect understanding and my imperfect telling, it is an account of the hope that is in me. And more importantly, considering that Christ is my life, the story I am recording must, to some degree, be His as well.

And, as Paul would pray, “May it be made manifest to your consciences.” If not—no harm, no foul.

As one who attempted to transition from a community-oriented local assembly to a traditional local church, I found myself frustrated because I had become a spectator to Christianity as I sat in my typical seat at the Sunday and Wednesday events. After a few years, I made the team, so to speak, when I was invited to become an elder in this “elder-governed” church. As much as I appreciated this gesture, my discomfort was not relieved. I could not escape the sense that the way we did church unintentionally created spectators instead of disciples. I do not anticipate that everyone will understand this or agree, but I would like to attempt to better explain myself by drawing from the theological meat of this passage and reasoning forward. The meat:

 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him…He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf…Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come… Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ; as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God.  (from 2 Corinthians 5:11-21)

Paul, as well as any man alive, understood wineskins. He was an outspoken and proud advocate of his previous wineskin—which was the hyper-religious culture revolving around the Law. It was while Paul was operating with zeal under the authority of his old wineskin that Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Paul’s Damascus epiphany included the shocking discovery that while a man is living in zealous compliance with his wineskin, he can simultaneously be persecuting Jehovah! Paul’s new understanding is essential to the process of being a disciple. He says…

We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, that you may have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart. (2 Corinthians 5:12)

I believe I am reasoning from scripture when I say Paul was deeply concerned with pretense. Note: The event with Ananias and Sapphira suggests that God is as well. This is why I think Paul would cry foul if He saw any type of wineskin forming that encouraged, intentionally or by default, the potential of pretense. Pretense is the circumstance in which people can conceal their hearts from each other while outwardly living a religious lifestyle compliant with the existing wineskin. Does this sound at all familiar?

I believe one of the reasons Paul may have been “beside himself” (vs 13) is because environments where pretense exists are “unsafe.” They are unsafe because there are unspoken agenda threaded like trip wires in the community. In these environments, there are typically freight car loads of unreconciled offenses which completely derail the train from its mission of reconciliation. This is a major problem. Why? Because the world is not going to accept the Ministry of Reconciliation from us unless they see that we are first reconciled to each other. Remember: for us to be reconciled to God, Jesus taught us that we must be first reconciled to each other. (Matt 5:23-24, 18:21-35).

We will one day be a united and loving family, not due to a reconciliation of doctrinal differences or a synchronization of understanding, but rather due to the fact that we learned, like Paul and his team, to recognize no man according to the flesh (i.e. according to titles, performance, pedigrees, or wineskin affiliation). Instead we will recognize and honor the new nature within each other. The love of God, by which our disciple hearts are constrained, will be made manifest to each other, to God, and to the world. We are not made manifest (i.e. our testimony does not ring true) to the worldly, not just because they are vile, unclean enemies of all that is holy, but because our claim that Jesus is both savior AND LORD appears, at least at this time, to them as a half-truth at best.

I am not sure what is required to change a wineskin for everybody. I only know that mine has had to suffer some violence along the way in order to experience much transformation. In this current season of reflection, my understanding is that there are no wineskins capable, however impressive they may be outwardly, of containing the Life of God other than the one Jesus announced had come: THE KINGDOM OF GOD. I also suspect, where we are the proud promoters of our particular wineskin franchises, God may be saying to us, the same thing He spoke to Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?”

Father, ultimately Your will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. Help us to find the balance of trusting in this and working with You toward that end. Give us new wineskin hearts that are thirsty for the Living Water that You intend to fill us with. May the new wine spill over into our relational networks bringing healing, salvation and deliverance to all. Amen.

 

 

Involved in Ministry (Thursday)—Matthew 10:1-20

I am just being honest. At times I find myself wanting to skim over some of Jesus’ troubling words. Yesterday it was, “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” Today, it’s “Heal the sick and raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons…”

I think it’s the trend I see in these verses that trouble me. They are verses that require that I think and live like Jesus Christ. My first reaction, as I reluctantly processed this, was, “This idea of us doing the miraculous is scandalous! We are talking about God incarnate here! I am just a man! And a fallen one at that!” Yet, here it is again, as we saw it yesterday, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” Only today the Lord’s words are loaded with supernatural specifics. In discussing miracles we are treading on one of the major fault lines dividing the Body of Christ.

I frequently get the impression, as I read the New Testament, that Jesus has given His children a frightening amount of authority we simply do not know what to do with. But as I give it more thought, we do come by this authority honestly. After all, with His Holy Spirit, He imparted to us His nature (His DNA). The same power that raised Jesus from the dead, that healed and set people free, that spoke the cosmos into existence, resides within us. So now, in spite of our personal opinions regarding our potential, God’s DNA is our DNA. That is huge! And I believe it should provide for a more flattering view of ourselves individually and collectively than we are accustomed to. Which is truer of us: that we are fallen or that we are new creations? Does this matter of our core identity affect our expectations and faith?

I have discovered in recent conversations that this idea of God’s-DNA-in-us is a bit much for some. I realized they think of the Holy Spirit more as a genie in a human-shaped lamp instead of God’s Spirit intertwined and inseparable from our own nature. I notice they also seem to think that when they sin the Spirit leaves the lamp. This can contribute to quite a lot of labor (plus guilt, plus shame, plus fear) being expended in trying to get Him back in and to stay there. “Oh Lord, do not take Thy Spirit from me.”

We are not going to heaven just because of some legal-heavenly document that has been stamped “SAVED.” While that document may exist, we are going to heaven because our nature is now compatible with that realm. We have been born-again into a race of beings that in Christ originated there. Heaven is our native land. Heaven is our new natures. Jesus’ life (His DNA) is our life. Christ lives in us. He is the first-born of a new race of men of which we are a part. We are so much more than just sinners saved by grace (inhabited on occasion by the Holy Spirit)!

Of course this line of reasoning must be discounted entirely by those who believe the show of miraculous power was an anomaly of the first century when there were legitimate apostles and the Christian religion required a good push out of the starting gate. As convenient and comforting as cessationist reasoning might be, I still have a sense that our deficit of the supernatural is not a God-intended dispensation.

I don’t know all the reasons why we are lean on miracles, but I could reason from scripture that the enemy of God’s kingdom, Satan, whose reign on this earth happens to be inversely related to the realization of God’s kingdom, is violently opposed and is leveraging every available deception to prolong his temporary influence. So, as long as he can promote any line of reasoning in the Church that will discount how we see ourselves and the authority that God has delegated, the Church will continue to fall short of her glorious destiny and the father of lies will prevail in his stall tactics.

I could also speculate that the immense authority God is attempting to delegate to us may frighten us. We are probably also intimidated at the responsibility this would bring. Our reasoning might be: “Oh. Delegating authority of this magnitude to men in their fallen and depraved condition would be like nuclear power in the hands of foolish children. Our egos would never stand the strain.” We are all familiar with the quote, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We think, “No, we would screw this up so bad and we would end up on the evening news every night bringing further shame to the name of Jesus.”

Conversely, I could also speculate that God the Father is waiting to release His power through those established sons and daughters who are at rest in Christ and do not feel like abandoned stepchildren when they stumble.

I don’t believe our reluctance toward the supernatural comes exclusively from the cessationist school of thought, but from those of us who have not fully discovered and reclaimed our new identities in Christ. Until this matter of what DNA is primary in us is resolved, any transformational Christian life, especially one that includes “the miraculous,” is going to be hard slogging.

I believe another issue for us is that most of us have received a gospel in western culture that has been divorced from the Kingdom of God. Its emphasis has often been the forgiveness of sins, escaping hell and getting into heaven. The greatest expectation for many of us has been the rapture so we can escape this defiled and unholy world, not to mention our defiled and unholy selves. Unfortunately, the message that our kingdom-less gospel has produced has quite a different flavor, effect, and outcome than the message Jesus introduced. By the way, our kingdom-less gospel has also helped produce a disciple-less Christianity. Here is what Jesus told His disciples to preach and to do: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you received, freely give.”

I believe that God has always desired for earth to be overrun and managed by a new race of kingdom citizens—children who resemble Him in character, thought, and deed. I believe, whether we get it yet or not, that He really has called us to think and live like Jesus. I think that the Church will one day rise to her appointed and glorious destiny as kingdom heralds. In that day, we will realize that He actually did delegate outrageous authority to those with the faith and confidence of children.

I believe God has a plan, in these later hours, to rejoin the gloriously good news of the gospel to the all-encompassing, ever-expanding enterprise of His kingdom. The children of this kingdom will be as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves in the use of their authority. With new identities, grounded in Christ, they will discover and live out their destinies as strategically placed agents of God’s eternal kingdom. I believe there are glorious days ahead for the church!

“Christ in us” is a “now” reality, as is the kingdom of heaven that Jesus introduced. Christ in us is the hope of glory. Like Paul, I believe that there will be suffering, but however it presents itself, it will not be worthy, compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us and through us. At some point in the future, and perhaps it is near, a radical transformation is due within the Church. Paul indicates that creation itself will, with us, escape our joint-slavery to futility and corruption and that the cosmos will be enjoined into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Father, may we recognize and receive the inheritance of our new natures and our new identities, which have been so firmly established in Christ. May we discover as kingdom children that we have been united in an enterprise that exceeds all earthly agendas and brings redemption, healing, sanity, and efficiency into all human endeavors. May we repent of our beliefs that, in any way, have discounted your “now” intentions for us and Your kingdom. Anoint us to be catalysts everywhere that our feet tread. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

 

 

Involved in Ministry (Wednesday)—John 20:19-23

At the encouragement of Jim Branch, the Blue Book’s author, I changed my spiritual diet. Instead of consuming large volumes of the Word daily, I started eating smaller and more frequent meals, trying to chew each bite more thoroughly. I have grown to love this new approach, and I believe I am healthier as a result. The only time I don’t like it is when I come to passages laden with mystery, passages I have typically skimmed over because of the impasse between my understand and their hard content. No matter how much chewing I do, I am not sure what to do with words like these: “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

I am surprised Peter did not stand up here and say to Jesus, “Far be it from me, Lord. Never under any circumstance would I presume to have this level of authority. Only You, the Son of God, can forgive sins.”  Yet, I could also imagine Jesus just giving Peter that look he gave him when He said, “Get behind me, Satan. Your interests are misplaced.” That familiar gaze, coming from a freshly resurrected Man, may have been just enough to restrain Peter from expressing his opinion again.

As I tried to read over this, the thought crossed my mind that this complicated verse should be deferred to scholars so they can chew on it in our behalf, and then return it to us in a more digestible form. Yet these are Jesus’ words to his predominantly working-class, un-scholarly friends. In deference to Jesus original audience, I am more inclined to just stop and ask the Lord, “What is this supposed to mean?” I do not have a pat answer as to what this sentence means, but I do have a piece of my story to share and some thoughts that might tie in. It will be helpful to keep in mind that Jesus also told his disciples, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

On Monday I asked if you were involved in ministry. Another way of asking this would be, “Has, Jesus commissioned or sent you?” Or, did He just send out those original eleven? Being a disciple has unfortunately become an optional track, especially in western, seeker-friendly Christianity, spawning the lie that being sent is a special call reserved for a zealous few. It seems many, if not most, of these called ones, have it in their hearts to go abroad, as if foreign fields are the only ones ripe for harvest. (Does ripe mean that people are on the verge of salvation or that they are bound, as all men are without Christ, and need the Gospel?) While this narrow perception of a calling may be good for the nations, it does seem to leave the west with a disciple-deficit. (Oh, yes. The other remaining called ones go to Bible school or seminary and qualify themselves to become professional Christian workers.)

There are a couple of applications I believe I’ve seen of this verse. They both took place in the span of one week with a spiritual father. (The Bible would refer to this person as a shepherd or pastor). This particular father happened to be functioning as a counselor. He served me by listening to years of the accumulated pain and chaos in my heart. This was difficult because I was a disciple—one who had given Christ permission to send him anywhere He wished and to do anything in my life He desired, one who, I would have thought, would by this time be living above such trauma of soul.

This saint created a safe space for me where I felt comfortable enough to be honest with him and myself. In this place of transparency, he helped me see where, by way of unforgiveness, I had retained the sins of many at tremendous cost to my family and myself. In this uniquely secure place, light was piercing the dark places of my heart. The truth was I had not watched over my heart very well, and in spite of my active religious service, Life had ceased to flow from it. At the end of my week of counseling, this shepherd seemed to function as one of the original eleven who had heard this unique command from the Lord. After helping me to see and take ownership of my bitterness and resentment, which are the inevitable consequence of retaining the sins others, and leading me in repentance, he surprised me when he said, “You’re sins have been forgiven.” I think I now understand by what authority this pastor spoke.

I regularly pray that I will not miss whatever lesson God is trying to effect in my heart when I go through trials. I do not want to waste any sorrows. I do not want to have to retake any tests. I do want to be like Him. My time with the counselor exposed the nature of the battle for my heart in new ways. Among other things, it revealed how essential and fundamental it is for a disciple to live without offense toward others. The months (now years) following this event have been very enlightening. With my writing I have attempted to capture some of these lessons and give an account of the new hope I am living in. I am also attempting to comfort others with these comforts with which I have been comforted.

Since that time, I have had a renewed sense of the call He has on all our lives as His disciples. Because of the example of my spiritual fathers and my own recent experiences, I cannot help but see that it is within our grasp to create safe spaces for others, places within friendships and groups of friends where we, too, can become authentic, where light can pierce our darkness and help us discover, reclaim, and build communities where the Life of Christ can flow among us, healing us and bonding us together in unity. I believe that each of us can hasten the coming of our Lord’s kingdom as we adopt this fundamental aspect of being disciples. I believe this is what it means to walk in the light and consequently enjoy fellowship with Him.

Father, may Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, not just in foreign nations, but right here in the midst of our more sophisticated, busy, secular—and religious—darkness. Teach a new generation of us disciples how to go free once and for all from the offenses we have retained so that we can collectively become a conduit for Life from heaven to earth. Amen.

Involved in Ministry (Tuesday)—Colossians 4:2-6

Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude. Don’t forget to pray for us, that God will open doors for telling the mystery of Christ, even while I’m locked up in this jail. Pray that every time I open my mouth I’ll be able to make Christ plain as day to them. Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out. (Colossians 4:2-6 The Message)

If prayer is conversation with God, as those who pray have discovered it to be, then a paraphrase of this passage might read:

 Enjoy your conversations with God. Be sure to listen to Him; being gratefully aware of His goodness. When you do speak to Him, ask Him, in our behalf, to give us access into men’s hearts so that we may plant the eternal seed of His Word there. Here is fair warning: it is for doing this very thing I have been jailed. Wisdom informs us that there are no “chance” encounters. Seize the opportunity to connect with those the Lord brings you into contact with. Speak with them and treat them as graciously as the Lord Himself has treated you.

An essential part of any conversation is listening. What follows is an account of how that part of my prayer life is evolving.

When I paraphrase a verse or a passage, I try and honor the text and the context. When I expand on an idea, I do it because I hear other truths from scripture amplifying a word or a phrase. This process is a way for me to carefully chew each morsel of spiritual food, enjoying its flavor and hopefully benefitting from the nourishing life within it.

I used to fret that I did not hear God’s voice like others seemed to. Looking back, I think that was a subtle (yet reasonable sounding) lie flavoring my inner conversation with doubt, fear, and condemnation. I finally came to a place, not too long ago, where I decided that whatever “hearing God’s voice” involved, it was not going to be helped by entertaining this track of mournful, hopeless thinking, however reasonable it sounded. This lie stuck because it seemed reasonable and natural that a depraved man’s receptors would be in a fallen condition and thus impaired for the task of listening to and hearing the voice of God. But, I had failed to fully realize that the temple veil was torn in two, signifying new access to the Father.

We were created in the likeness of God. We have been re-joined and reunited with the One who sits on the throne by the One who hung on the cross. In Christ, we share, at the core of our being, the same DNA as the Father. Oh the glory this world will see when the redeemed grasp that our new natures in Christ trump all things fallen and natural and that the channels have been re-opened between us and God and that they are absolutely free of condemnation!

A young businessman man in China, who I don’t think would have known my phobia regarding hearing God’s voice, was praying for a team of three of us who were going to do some ministry in South Africa. As he prayed for me, he heard God say, “Rob does not hear my voice the same way others do. I have given him language.” For those unfamiliar with this sort of thing, this would be dubbed, “a prophetic word”. It is not issued forth with the force of an Old Testament prophecy. (Therefore, no stones will be cast if this does not prove to be true, okay?) It was just a simple word received by one who is learning the art of listening as they pray and simply sharing it as a word of encouragement. I treat prophetic words as holy clues. God knows His children love to discover things, and this is just one of the ways He chooses to encourage us to press on. Prophetic words are not directives to be robotically obeyed by slaves: they are invitations from Father to draw near and listen for possibilities on a particular wavelength. There are presents to be unwrapped!

I love to read, and I have always loved the language that God has given others. When I read, I am typically savoring the thought as well as the art of its presentation. There is life in words. When the right idea is delivered in the right spirit at the right time, words have incredible power. When I picked up the Blue Book a few years ago, I was encouraged to experiment with reading the scriptures with a listening heart, not just an inquiring mind. I was also encouraged to start journaling. It was in this simple act I began unwrapping a surprise from the Lord. Indeed, he had given me language.

Consequently, the pen (now the keyboard) has become the rope and the bucket I use to dip into a deep well of Living Water. Here is how this frequently plays out: after reading a passage several times (often starting the evening before), I listen for something that is vibrating at a bit higher frequency. In other words, what word, phrase, or idea seems to be emboldened or highlighted? I will usually reread the passage and permit it to amplify and modify that original morsel. As a backdrop, I just presume that God desires to reveal Himself and make Himself known. I lower the bucket by writing out an initial observation and draw it up by meditating on it and typing out my reflections, seeing how they connect with the rest of the passage or the author’s intentions and especially to life right where it is being lived in the moment. I have discovered, in the process of writing this way, that I am also listening.

I know. There is a frightening amount of subjectivity in this. You may be asking how Rob, with his fallen nature and independent stiff will, will keep from drifting, in his subjectivity, from modest error today into gross heresy tomorrow. Good question. I have at least three things going for me that should serve as a hedge against this possibility.

1) The deepest truth about me is not that I have an independent and rebellious nature. The deepest truth about me is that I have a brand new nature and identity in Christ. Christ Himself and His Spirit reside in me. My new DNA (which is also God’s) is formatted in Truth. This new nature instinctively recognizes the Father’s voice—the Spirit of Truth. That’s the first thing.

2) God does not give a serpent to his children when they ask for a fish; nor does He give them a stone when they ask for a loaf. God is a really good Father! If I go ape with subjectivity, He has the ability to correct me. He isn’t going to let me drive the train off the track.

3) I also have you and others to whom I deliberately expose my heart. If you are my true brother or sister, you will ask me, when something seems off, if I may not need to reconsider my thinking in light of the whole counsel of scripture. If you have that level of courage, then iron will have sharpened iron and we will both grow as a result. If not, our apathy and cowardice will likely perpetuate our errors and consequently our lukewarm condition.

Father, as we move through our lives, help us to see the beloved people all around us. Help us to boldly, lovingly and wisely draw near to those whom You have sovereignly appointed us to connect with. Grant us open doors into each other’s lost and wounded hearts. May Your Holy Spirit in us decode our inarticulate pleas for living water. Please re-pray them in our behalf. Grant that, from the water we draw from You, we can offer each other the refreshment of heaven that resides within us. Amen.

 

 

Involved in Ministry (Monday)—I Thessalonians 2:1-12

Are you involved in ministry? Is the nature of your ministry full-time or are you just part-time? I have had people for years telling me that they could see me in full-time ministry someday. Since that had been an ambition of mine since Christ took up residence within me at 23, I was always pleased to hear this prediction. After all, I didn’t want to just give Jesus a part-time commitment. But, I have also been frustrated because my attempts at moving in that direction always felt like I was kicking against the goads.

It has only been in recent years that I discovered that I was already in full-time ministry and had been for years. Here is something that might cause you some surprise: if Christ is in you, you too are in full-time ministry. (And if you are a Christian, Christ is in you.)  If you’re not drawing a paycheck for your ministerial contribution, this passage drives home some of the advantages of the type of full-time ministry you and I share. You and I (non-staff ones) have much more in common with Paul than we probably think!

Here are some observations from this passage about Paul’s ministry. His conscience was so clear before God and man that he could defend his whole-hearted effort and motives without blushing and also without pride. Paul clearly understood that in regard to his ministry, it was ultimately God, with whom he had to do. This was simply the orientation of his heart since he had become the tabernacle of the living Christ. This relieved Paul of the burden of trying to impress anyone or even assert the apostolic authority that was rightfully his. He preferred to win their hearts and draw their choices from them as opposed to laying down a law and driving them with guilt and fear toward obedience. A key to Paul’s success comes to light in verse 2:8: “Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

Paul knew something about different types of authority. He knew that the kind of authority that is earned by sharing life’s burdens was superior to the kind that came with his apostolic title. Paul was using the authority of a true spiritual father, not that of a hireling. He knew from experience that, from this place of close relational proximity, he was more effective in the exhorting, encouraging and imploring necessary to equip men to live as sons and ultimately spiritual fathers.

Paul owed nothing to anyone other than God. He was not obligated to meet the expectation of a congregation whose tithes would be the basis of his economic stability. In the Christian culture most of us have grown up in, there is a pastor who receives a paycheck and he is accountable to his employer, which is typically represented by some kind of board or committee. And, if you have had the experience of being either the writer or the recipient of these checks, you know there are the ever-present dynamics of politics, by which Paul was fortunately unhindered in Thessalonica.

I have had the opportunity to enter into the dynamic tensions between the writer and recipient of these checks. Consequently, today I thank the Lord for sparing me from “that type” of full-time ministry and permitting me to see that all Christians are in full-time ministry with the same advantages that Paul knew. We have the privilege, just as Paul did:

To walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls us into His own kingdom and glory. And for this reason we can thank God that when those (in relational proximity to us) received (and observed) the word of God’s message, they accepted it not as (just) the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in those of us who believe. (Parentheticals mine)

For the record, Paul did issue commands by the authority of the Lord Jesus, but he didn’t just preach them, he demonstrated them. When he exhorted the Thessalonians that each of them must learn to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, as a member of their community, he was able to actually demonstrate how to abstain from sexual immorality and to live and to work free from lust and greed. The kingdom of God is learned by a combination of exhibition (example) and exposition (teaching).

As much as a pastor might like to imitate Paul and personally exhort and encourage the flock, his organizational and managerial responsibilities usually require so much of his time that relational proximity to others is nearly impossible. There is another complicating feature for “pastors” in experiencing true relational proximity (and intimacy) to others in our current church culture— “compliance.”

I hate this word because our construction business contracts with government entities, who are really heavy into “compliance.” If we do not comply with their specifications and regulations, which are numerous—and sometimes onerous—we do not get our paycheck. I believe I see this same dynamic in-play within church (the way our traditions have taught us to do it). It may in fact be worse in churches than in government. At least in our business (where God is not confused as its sovereign author) we have written contracts, specification, and prescribed means of resolving disputes.

Within church cultures, there are some written codes, but there are also myriad unwritten ones spelling out the righteous standards that must be complied with. It is very complicated, because over time these standards become embedded into the group’s culture and are hence sacred (assumed to be ordained by God). If one wishes to remain employed or in good standing, it would serve them well to understand the religious culture in which they serve and live in compliance with it. If, however, you are a re-former of church culture, brace yourself for an inevitable and messy battle where the disputed territories being fought over will seldom even be understood or acknowledged for what they really are—a swampland of traditions, swimming with old-wineskin assumptions.

Pastor and staff beware. These stagnant waters often breed a nasty parasite – the backbiting saint. There is typically an ongoing buzz of discussion within the local assembly as to how the pastor (and others) are doing in their compliance. Sheep may look innocent, but they bite like crazy. Just ask all the pastors who have distanced themselves (for safety and sanity’s sake) from all the self-appointed code enforcers.

I have drifted. My point is that those of us who do not draw a paycheck for our service of worship have an unprecedented opportunity and responsibility. The pastor does not have the same congregation we do. Only you and I have our particular network of friends, co-workers, and family. It’s not the pastor’s job to reach them. Only we, who are unencumbered by title and who have been uniquely gifted, equipped, and strategically located, must serve those nearest us.  Only in our unique relational proximity to these people can we impart our lives.

I Thessalonians has much to say about life together, but here is one of Paul’s most precious pearls: “Encourage one another and build-up one another…and always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men.”

Father, may the light come on within us and help us see and take ownership of those you have placed near to us. Help us to love them with the gifts you placed uniquely in us for this purpose. Deliver us from the idea that the kingdom was left to be built by salaried professionals. Give us new strategies that will equip and commission the saints to impart our lives and the gospel to those You have placed near to us. Amen.

 

Involved in Ministry (Sunday) – Acts 8:26-40

Acts 8:26-40

I recall Henry Blackaby’s counsel from His excellent Experiencing God study; To find the will of God for your life, look around, see what God is doing and get involved in it. That remains wise counsel, but on this particular day, the Lord was not leaving the discovery of His will to Phillip’s powers of observation alone. He used an angel to issue a directive, “Go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” The next thing we know, the Holy Spirit Himself is saying, “Go up and join the chariot.” Once Phillip engaged the driver of that chariot he found what God had been doing. He discovered the eunuch was a reader and simply asked him how that was working out. It was not long before this foreigner was a member of the family of God.

Why do some come to Christ and others do not? If this story is representative of God’s ways, it is pretty obvious that people come to Christ because the Good Shepherd, using his disciples, supernatural rounds up the lost and leads them into the fold. The story reveals to what extent God is willing to go in rescuing lost sheep.

He used the supernatural to maneuver Phillip and the eunuch into close proximity and then He used the most natural of means, Phillips’s ability to engage the man in a conversation. When Phillip was trying to determine what God had been doing, He did so by inquiring as to what questions were churning inside the man’s heart.

Don’t you know Phillip’s heart leapt when he discovered that the man just happened to be reading about Jesus, the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. Phillip was able to relate that the One he had been reading about had just recently come to earth from heaven as a sacrificial Lamb and left as the resurrected King, securing eternal life for all those who would simply believe that He was the Son of God.

Note: This paragraph presumes you read yesterday’s post. Our passage today strongly reinforces the doctrines of “election” and “the sovereignty of God”, foundational biblical truths. However, when these doctrines are regularly fed to and incorporated into a Sunday/Wednesday / “spectator” Christian culture where discipleship is optional, I think our mission as ambassadors gets derailed.

Trusting in God’s sovereignty in having brought things to this arrangement where professionals do the bulk of ministry overlooks God’s sovereignty in bringing all of us into our own unique network of people – people that the professional at HQ are not equipped geographically or relationally to reach.

I believe God wants us to recover our initiative as individual Kingdom citizens and envoys who are honoring God’s sovereignty by recognizing where he has intentionally placed us within our own unique existing networks of relationships. I believe he wants us to see our hearts and our networks as the front lines of the kingdom of God.

Another besides Henry Blackaby, attempting to recommission the saints into ministry, is Dr. Bruce Wilkinson. His book, You Were Born For This makes a great biblical argument, within a “reformed” theological framework, that we have all been sovereignly maneuvered, with angelic and Spirit assistance (like Phillip), to arrive where we currently are, fit geographically and spiritually into networks of people who have questions rumbling around inside them that we alone are positioned to inquire into. The book provides numerous accounts, no less fantastic than Phillip’s, that demonstrate that God’s supernatural resources are available to reach out to the “1 and 99’s” who are everywhere around us. The only question is in regards to our wineskin mindsets. Have we been conditioned to “attend” church or to “go” out into the ripe fields where we have been placed and make disciples?

An application of this passage is right in front of us. A Blue Book has been placed in the hands of a group, which I assume God has sovereignly assembled, that has both answered and provoked questions regarding the same One the eunuch was inquiring about. Some of us have been coming together regularly and asking each other, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Over time a priceless dialogue has resulted. Safe spaces have been created where we have given each other permission to be ourselves. Networks have been identified. Members of those networks are taking ownership and investing into these holy friendships.  Hearts have grown closer to each other and to God. This was accomplished because a few people took the initiative to reach out with this Blue Book. What would happen if those who have been infected with Blue Book-fever contaminated others in relational proximity to them?

Father, awaken us from any slumber that has come over our spirits that would suggest that “ministry” is for professionals and that we are here to just attend church, cast our votes and pay a tithe in behalf of others who actually do the work. We pray that you would even use the Blue Book network to help us and others discover our identities as sons and ambassadors, reclaiming our unique destinies as those who tear down strongholds and destroy the lofty speculations that exalt themselves above the knowledge of God. Grant us ears to hear. Grant us courageous hearts to respond to Your voice that is calling us out past our comfort zones. Help us to see that our choices are essential in the mysterious outworking of Your sovereignty. And may we see a great harvest of new kingdom sons and citizens. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Involved in Ministry (Saturday) – Matthew 28:16-20

Matthew 28:16-20

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

There are wonderful exceptions to this but often perceived success in fulfilling the great commission is tallied when red hot zealots arise from the lukewarm pack and heed the call to full-time ministry.  They make preparation and ultimately find their way into professional ministry posts as missionaries or pastors. The Body of Christ then looks to these called ones as their leaders. In many models they in turn, spend their lives preaching the gospel in order to save souls from hell and preserve them, through church involvement, for heaven. But, with this paradigm, how are we doing in the making disciples – department?

As hard as professional clergy may try, it is nearly impossible for them to prevent an us versus them – culture with us being the called professionals and them being the less-called unprofessionals. This mindset promotes a crippling option; that one can be a disciple who is actively engaged in ministerial activity or that one can be a mere believer who attends church. If the adage is true that 20% of the people do 80% of the work, then the effect of this error is that 80% of the army has not been commissioned. Infecting the Body of Christ with the notion that one can possess saving faith without being a disciple has been one the enemy administration’s most effective policies.

The original mandate to make disciples has effectively been derailed by an idea that has gone largely unchallenged within western traditions of Christianity. Consequently, many bible believing followers have been breaking away from traditional churches to engage in missional communities where the assumption is that all are called and that the primary mission of leaders is to recognize this and equip them all as disciples through their teaching and the example of their own lives. Does seminary or bible college equip people to lead in this way?  Jesus said….

 As I am so are you in this world.

While Pastor and the gospel have their place, I can see a day when the disciple and the Kingdom will have theirs. A disciple is nothing more than a person in whose heart Christ’s kingdom is operative and expanding. The Kingdom of God is simply that domain of activity where Christ’s government is prevailing. This is why Jesus said, in Him the kingdom of God had come. This is why He said the kingdom of God is within us.

The leader who is deconstructing the us vs them and the disciple vs attender-wineskin myth is partnering with the kingdom of God. The leaders who are helping believers discover their identities in Christ and laying hold of their kingdom destinies are partnering with God’s grand kingdom objectives. The leader who is intentionally helping believers discover their individual giftings and helping them to see how relevant and essential they are to their immediate network of souls is making disciples and fulfilling the Great Commission mandate. When believers become disciples who recognize they are here only temporarily and that they were born for such a time as this, the administration of this planet will shift from the Prince of this world to Lord of Life and King forevermore.

Father, we acknowledge that you have commissioned us as ambassadors to make disciples in all nations. Help us to prepare by living out Your life in our neighborhoods and our networks. Help us to see our wineskins from Your perspective. May Your Kingdom inform our reality. Help us to embrace the Kingdom of God and may that eternal paradigm govern our lives individually and corporately that the world may see that special and long-awaited glory upon us and credit You for the miracle. In Jesus name. Amen.

http://www.thedones.com/ & http://holysoup.com/2014/11/12/the-rise-of-the-dones/

 

Involved in Ministry (Friday) – 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

2 Corinthians 5:11-21

The reading of this passage has provoked some thinking that I usually avoid in conversation because of the fact that whatever “skin” we are in, when it comes to a discussion of  “wineskins”, our skin is typically pretty thin. I think of wineskins as the paradigms we have and the perceptions we use to explain reality to ourselves. So within the Church, our wineskins are the individual and collective thought structures in which we attempt to contain the life of God. Every human has one, and the simple fact that we each believe that we came by ours honestly (or even sovereignly) makes them nearly, if not completely, sacred. And what is sacred must be protected. Thus the thin skin. Thus our division.

The combination of yielding to His Word, imperfectly to be sure, through 61 years of experience and trials, some of which He appointed, most of which I created, all of which He has redeemed (or is redeeming), is how my wineskin has been shaped and is being painfully reshaped. (Note; I have not been a Christian for 60 years. But, His light shining retroactively on the first 23 years when I was stumbling through the darkness without Christ, has been one of the most redeemed and instructive aspects of my life.) While my story does not reflect “perfected” theology, neither do I have to apologize for it.  Even in my imperfect understanding and my imperfect telling, it is an account of the hope that is in me.  And more importantly, considering that Christ is my life, the story I am recording must, to some degree, be His as well.

And, as Paul would pray, “May it be made manifest to your consciences.” If not; no harm, no foul.

As one who attempted to transition from a community-oriented local assembly to a traditional  local church, I found myself frustrated because I had become a spectator to Christianity as I sat in my typical seat at the Sunday and Wednesday events. After a few years, I made the team, so to speak, when I was invited to become an elder in this “elder-governed” church. As much as I appreciated this gesture, my discomfort was not relieved. I could not escape the sense that the way we did church unintentionally created spectators instead of disciples. I do not anticipate that everyone will understand this or agree, but I would like to attempt to better explain myself by drawing from the theological meat of this passage….and reasoning forward. The meat…..

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him…..He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf……Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come….. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ; as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God.”

Paul, as well as any man alive, understood wineskins. He was an outspoken and proud advocate of his previous wineskin – which was the the hyper-religious culture revolving around the Law. It was while Paul was operating with zeal under the authority of his old wineskin that Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Paul’s Damascus epiphany included the shocking discovery that while a man is living in zealous compliance with his wineskin, he can simultaneously be persecuting Jehovah! Paul’s new understanding is essential to the process of being a disciple. He says…….

We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, that you may have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart.”

I  believe I am reasoning from scripture, when I say Paul was deeply concerned with pretense.  Note; The event with Annanias and Saphira suggests that God is as well. This is why I think Paul would cry foul if He saw any type of wineskin forming that encouraged, intentionally or by default, the potential of pretense.  Pretense is that place where people can conceal their hearts from each other while outwardly living a religious lifestyle compliant with the existing wineskin. Does this sound at all familiar?

I believe one of the reasons Paul may have been “beside himself” (vs 13) is because environments where pretense exists are “unsafe”. They are unsafe because there are unspoken agendas threaded like trip wires in the community. In these environments, there are typically, freight car loads of unreconciled offenses which completely derail the train from its mission of reconciliation. This is a major problem. Why? Because the world is not going to accept the Ministry of Reconciliation from us unless they see that we are first reconciled to each other. Remember; for us to be reconciled to God, Jesus taught us that we must be first reconciled to each other. (Matt 5:23-24, 18:21-35)

We will one day be a united and loving family, not due to a reconciliation of doctrinal differences or a synchronization of understanding, but rather due to the fact that we learned, like Paul and his team, to recognize no man according to the flesh (i e; according to titles, performance, pedigrees or wineskin affiliation). We will recognize and honor the new nature within each other. The love of God that our hearts, as His disciples are constrained by, will be made manifest to each other, to God and to the world. We are not made manifest (i.e.; our testimony does not ring true) to the worldly, not just because they are vile, unclean enemies of all that is holy, but  because our claim that Jesus is both savior AND LORD appears, at least at this time, to them as a half-truth at best.

I am not sure what is required to change a wineskin for everybody. I only know that it seems like mine has had to suffer some violence along the way in order to experience much transformation. In this current season of reflection, my understanding is that there are no wineskins capable, however impressive they may be outwardly, of containing the Life of God other than the one Jesus announced had come; THE KINGDOM OF GOD. I also suspect, where we are the proud promoters of our particular wineskin franchises, God may be saying to us, the same thing He spoke to Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?”

Father, ultimately Your will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. Help us to find the balance of trusting in this and working with You toward that end. Give us new wineskin hearts that are thirsty for the Living Water that You intend to fill us with. May the new wine spill over into our relational networks bringing healing, salvation and deliverance to all. Amen.