Acts 2:37-38 NIV84 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" (38) Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Amid a myriad of approaches to introduce people to Jesus, one method is still above them all. That is, people who do not know God are cut to the heart and respond to His jaw-dropping power in light of their own sin through repentance and faith.
This is not popular today, but it is still popular with God.
The reason it's not so popular today is that nobody wants to admit that they are wrong about anything. Christians, non-Christians, rich, poor, middle-class, any occupation, any race, any age... no one can seem to admit they are wrong or any wrongdoing. We won't admit to each other and we won't admit to God. That leaves us in a very precarious position in regards to sin. Sin is wrongdoing based on God's standard of holiness. If we are in violation of God's holiness, then, at some point, we must reconcile this violation through admission, contrition, repentance, and Godly sorrow. Then, our hearts have been cut by the Holy Spirit, and salvation comes flooding in.
To attempt leading people into a relationship through any method devoid of the cutting is an exercise in futility. here are some ways we attempt to get people to "like us and like our Jesus" without the cutting:
- Any form of Christian entertainment that mimics the world so people can participate in Christian things and not feel out of place.
- Convincing arguments through apologetics attempting to prove Jesus through reasoning rather than belief, faith and actual presence.
- Benefit-based explanations. "Come to Jesus and receive all these perks!"
- Guilt-based or shame-based language to "motivate" people to respond.
- "Love them with actions, but not words..." In other words, never ever point out what is wrong ... and don't expect God to point out what is wrong either in regards to sin. This cheapens true love.
- "We're all sinners" approach. This basically says, "Don't worry about the whole sin thing... we're all still sinners here."
As you share Christ with the world, share your own story of how you were CUT TO THE HEART. As you tell your own testimony to others, it would be good to say, "I had to come face-to-face with my own sin before God." That speaks authentically to your own submission to God through a rending of the heart. Then tell them of the freedom you have experienced beyond the healing of salvation. Then explain the power that God gives to help you navigate life and the authority to hold back the enemy. That's the heart of the Christian experience. Tell of His presence with you to guide you and lead you through the day-to-day circumstances of life.
Let's bring evangelism back to it's center on the Christ who saves and the shed blood that deals with sin.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NIV84 (1) When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. (2) For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (3) I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. (4) My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, (5) so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.
Seeking is a word full of action and determination. It is not casual in any sense. If you are seeking after something, then you are consumed by the hunt and the object of the hunt. Seeking is passionate, determined, unrelenting pursuit.
Back in the early 1990's I went to a conference at Willow Creek Community Church. They had changed the definition of "seeker" to a much more casual approach. They defined seeker as someone who was coming to their church to investigate the claims of Christ. They were undecided about Christ, therefore the service had to be sensitive to these undecided people so they could conduct their investigation in an environment of professional music, drama, polished talks and comfortable theater seating.
When it comes to being a seeker, I prefer the passionate, unrelenting hunt. In this definition, there is no consideration or investigation. In fact, a true seeker has already decided that Jesus is everything to them...worth far more than their own life... and is absolutely set on finding all there is to know of Him, and about Him. I want to take back the word "seeker" from those who have redefined it to be a casual thing. The scriptures clearly describe the true heart of a true seeker:
Psa_27:8 My heart says of you, "Seek his face!" Your face, LORD, I will seek.
Psa_119:2 Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.
Psa_119:10 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
Pro_18:15 The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.
Jer_29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Are you a true seeker? Are you unrelenting in your search of God, the face of God, the ways of God, the will of God, the Word of God, the promises of God, the discipline of God, the holiness of God and the glory of God? Are you so disrupted in your spirit in this pursuit that worldly things just don't matter to you any more? And, more importantly, are you finding what you are searching for?
Another term we've come to know in a very specific way is the "Bucket List." In other words, what things do you want to do and what experiences do you want to have... what places do you want to visit before you ... you know ... kick the bucket? Some people take their bucket list to the level of seeker. Others view it more casually. Some people desire to visit every baseball stadium in America and find the finances and ways to make it happen. What causes you to rearrange your finances and schedule?
If you are in Christ, seeking Him should be first.
Is Jesus truly first?
Are you a passionate, unrelenting, hunter of the things of God?
Are you a seeker?
I gave my life to God yesterday, but I must renew that commitment today. I can't expect yesterday's promise to get me through today. Yesterday the Lord may have asked me to obey Him in a particular way, but that moment has passed. If I would obey Him today, I must decide in advance to do so. If I decide in advance that He has His way in me, then there is nothing He can ask that will frighten me, or cause me to hesitate to be obedient. If I choose to live my own path and plan, then His call to obey will be secondary to my own wishes and desires. That simply can't be. He must have His way first, then whatever else may come will get what is left over of me.
Lord God, I am not my own. I was bought with the price of Jesus' sacrifice. Today, I will follow You and obey You. I will honor You and serve You. If You ask something of me, my answer will be yes. If You call me away from something or into something, then my answer will be yes. Help me to not hesitate. I give You full and complete permission to every area of my life: to take from me what needs to be taken, and to give to me what needs to be given that I might serve You wholeheartedly and grow in the grace and knowledge of my Lord, Jesus. AMEN.
This surrender must be repetitive or I will likely wander. My emotions, my will, my desires, my plans will keep rising and attempting to take up residence on the throne of my heart. Jesus alone must occupy the throne of my heart. This is the essence of holiness: repetitive surrender. Holiness is not a label, not a rule or list of rules, not an appearance, and not a code of ethics. Holiness is Christ-likeness, and I can't hope to attain to such a beautiful thing if the world is crowding my thoughts and my life. My physical location in this world has nothing to do with my obligations or to Whom I am obliged. The world may contain my flesh, but the LORD must have my heart and mind.
If I'm not willing to seek this then what else is there? Religion has nothing to offer but holiness is the key to seeing God. Busyness will me a false sense of productivity, but holiness will give me a sense of authenticity. The world is a smoke-screen of lures and temptations, but holiness is clarity and purity of the true reality and nature of all things. The world wants me to elevate my self, holiness calls me elevate Jesus.
And when this day is done and, beyond the sleep of the night to come, I awake to a new day, I will ... I must surrender all over again.
The story of Jesus sending out the twelve disciples, found in Matthew 10, is a rich story full of many implications for today's disciples of Jesus. Let's take some time to "expose the story."
Matthew 10:1-17 NIV84 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
(2) These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; (3) Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; (4) Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
(5) These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. (6) Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.
(7) As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'
(8) Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
(9) Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; (10) take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.
(11) "Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave.
(12) As you enter the home, give it your greeting. (13) If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.
(14) If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.
(15) I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
(16) I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
(17) "Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues.
The story of God always has the depths of God waiting to be explored and exposed. Once exposed to our thinking, the implications of the story become calls to action that hold us accountable and draw us into service. May the exposed story of Jesus today draw you into calling and purpose.
To be Christian involves the whole person: Spirit, Soul and Body.
One cannot be divorced from the other two. "Christ in you, the hope of glory" is not for the Spirit alone, but for the soul (mind, thinking, patterns of thought, emotions, will) and the body (flesh, bone and the urges of the flesh). All must be brought into holy order, or sanctified.
When did Christianity become merely an educational exercise in spiritual matters?
Yes, the new birth begins in the spirit, but immediately overflows into the soul and the body. The awakening of the spirit causes and awakening of the mind, which flows into the actions of the flesh, for the flesh acts out on the contents of the spirit and soul. The spirit may be the leader, but the soul and body always follow the leader.
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NKJV)
Upon the completion of creating mankind, God said that it was "very good." Would God not want the whole man redeemed and restored? Would God only save the spirit to send the soul and flesh into hell? There is no evidence in the scriptures that God disregards the flesh that He called "very good" nor is there evidence that he disregards you will, thoughts, emotions, and patterns of thought.
We must resolve to join the scriptures in presenting ourselves as living sacrifices.
IN REGARDS TO THE SPIRIT.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6 NKJV)
IN REGARDS TO THE MIND.
For "WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD THAT HE MAY INSTRUCT HIM?" But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16 NKJV)
IN REGARDS TO THE FLESH.
For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. (James 3:2-3 NKJV)
Let us be whole, earnest followers of Jesus, eager and desirous to serve Him with our entire being, Spirit, soul and body! AMEN and AMEN.
The ways of God are higher and the thoughts of God are higher. The ways and thoughts of God are holy and pure, therefore we would do well to desire His ways and thoughts over our own. Our own may deive us, but His will never lead us astray.
Have you ever been in a situation and thought "things just shouldn't be this way?" Whatever relationship has something missing or something awry, you just know deep in your soul that things should be different. The way things should be is the way God would have them. Jesus is our best example of the human embodiment of the ways and thoughts of God. He is the supreme example. He has the best advice.
I believe that far too many Christians today hear the words of Jesus with "old ears." It's like hearing your mother say for the umpteenth time... "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times to clean your room." We choose to hear with a selective filter and the impact of mom's words roll off our consciousness like water off a duck's back. Are the words of Jesus the water to your own duck's back? Or, are they full of fresh life and still able to divide and penetrate your soul to operate out of tenderness?
When things in the church aren't the way they should be we do more harm than we can imagine. It's like going to your kitchen faucet for clean water only to find the water putrid and discolored, polluted and undrinkable. This is why the apostle Paul tells us that we have an obligation, but it is not to the sinful nature.
"Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." (Romans 8:12-14 NIV84)
Like a collar around your neck and with a chain attached, you are led by the sinful nature or the spirit nature. It's hard to walk in a path of unity when you try to walk with someone who is choosing to be led by the sinful nature. It's hard to enjoy true fellowship when two people are joined to opposing spiritual forces. It's hard to be unequally yoked with people who say they believe with their mouth, but store up the enemy's ways and thoughts in the heart and mind. It shouldn't be that way.
Today, and always, let us seek to walk in the ways of the Savior, the Good Shepherd, the Prince of Peace, the Wonderufl Counselor, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Let us live the reality of the fruit of the Spirit and seek the higher ways and thoughts of God.
That's the way things should be.
That's the best way.
That's the holy way.
Everyone likes new beginnings, but are new beginnings really the answer we need?
In my life I've witnessed my own new beginnings. Many times they became a pile of disappointing yesterdays. Why? Is this the fault of others? Is it the fault of the cosmos or some uncontrollable force that is always against me? Am I walking through life with a target on my chest inviting the flaming arrows of the devil? Why do all my new beginnings end up as failed attempts at renewal?
Because, the answer isn't in the "new beginning" as you and I understand newness. The issue is me.
People often talk about what they will be.
"When I move to this new location, everything will change."
"When I get that raise, everything will get better."
"When I remove this person from my life, I'll be at peace."
"When I add a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse to my life, everything will be better."
"If I just had ____________ my life would be on track."
Or, people refer to themselves in regards to their past.
"I used to have a higher paying job, but now that's all over."
"I once was happy until _____________ happened."
"I was fine until this enormous error happened."
"When so-and-so came into my life everything turned for the worse."
What about Now?
Not "I will be" and not "I once was" but rather "I am..." What about "I am..."?
Until your NOW gets healed and remade by the transforming power of God, your WILL BE's will be controlled by the principles of your "ONCE WERE's".
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
(2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV84)
Has the NEW come to you in the NOW. The new in the now is the answer for the new that awaits you on the horizon. When the clock strikes midnight tonight and 2016 gives way to 2017, nothing will be new if you are not new. Things change but they will only change deeply for you if you are transformed. A New YOU brings CHRIST into the NOW moments of your life.
May the God of new beginnings grant you true transformation in this very moment, and in every moment of your present consciousness. May Jesus Christ continue the healing work of your past so that you wil not be controlled by the principles of your yesterdays. May the power and presence of the Holy Spirit guide you into green pastures and near still waters for the restoration of your being so that your moments are guided by Him, not by your past. AMEN.
One defiled. Can these two forces co-exist?
Do you think that the devil and God share living quarters, talking about their differences of opinion? Do you think they share conversation about how they "agree to disagree" regarding their lifestyle choices? No. They are in opposition to eachother. They are not equals, God is far superior. God is Creator and the devil is created. They will not both exist ad infinitum for God will throw the devil and hell into the lake of fire. Light will prevail, darkness will die. Holiness will triumph and evil will vanish.
This is why Jesus says to His people:
"This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous."
(Matthew 13:49 NIV84) But what is righteousness? It is following Jesus. What is following Jesus?
Following Jesus means that you enter into two separation agreements.
Agreement #1: Separated FOR Holiness.
Whatever is "Yes" and "Amen" in Jesus is now "Yes" and "Amen" in you. Everything in Jesus is holy in all matters of the heart, the mind, the thinking, behavior, attitude, affection, desire, action, language, inclination, etc. Perfected in purity and holiness. Jesus in the exact representation of the Father, and we are to be the exact representation of Christ. The beauty of this is that all power needed to be separated for Jesus comes from the gift of the Holy Spirit. Holiness is power and power and holiness. Love is holiness and holiness is love. To be Christian without holiness is not Christianity at all. To be in Jesus without being entirely separated apart for Him is to not be in Him at all. Jesus and the Father are one. When we are one with Jesus we are one in the same way, or not in any way.
Agreement #2: Separated FROM Sin and the World.
Jesus never participated in sin although He conversed with sinners. His purpose was to show Light in the darkness and holiness in the midst of worldliness. Being in the presence of the messiness of sin while maintaining a separation from participating in the mess is the essence of Jesus. Holiness in the midst of the darkness is what Jesus is all about and if we are in Him, it must be what we are all about as well. Separated out from the world's ways even while we are yet in the world.
Do you follow Jesus?
Have you signed agreement #1 to be set apart commpletely for Christ and Christ Alone? Is everything in you in alignment with the Yes and Amen of Jesus?
Have you signed agreement #2 to be separate from the world's ways? Have you shunned sin and all of its devastating effects?
Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
(Hebrews 12:14 NIV84)
Hey... What did you get for Christmas? Did you get what you wanted?
A couple of years ago I got new coffee maker, and, at the time, I was very excited to get it. Today, for Christmas I got a new one and I set the old one near the door to go out with the trash. The old one that once was so great, is now yesterday's news. At some point the new one I received today will also give way to wear-and-tear, and also find it's way into the trash. That is true for material things... they are displaced from our affection... they can't bring us lasting joy.
You may have received many things for Christmas, but what will you keep?
God's gift of Jesus is so valuable; so life-giving; so extravagant; so transforming; so freeing; so cleansing; so redeeming, that most people give everything they have and celebrate to do so because they see the worth is Jesus as being greater than anything else they have.
Jesus is the only gift you'll keep for all eternity.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(Matthew 6:19-21 NIV84)
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
(Matthew 13:44 NIV84)
You see, it's not about what you get for Christmas, it's what you keep.
The event of Christmas can bring temporary joy that is fleeting, but the presence of Jesus in your life can bring true and lasting joy. Jesus doesn't wear out, go out of style.
I'd like to wish you the eternal presence of Jesus through His Holy Spirit to be with you always. It's what you keep when Christmas is over that really matters. Jesus is not meant to emerge on December 25th, then go back into hiding until next year. The baby born in the manger grows. When He is born anew in you, the growth never stops.
May you experience the ever-growing presence of Christ in your life now and always. AMEN.
Christmas time is here, and, as it always does, Christmas intersects with our everyday lives. You don't schedule Christmas, it arrives no matter what is happening. Remember when you were a kid and played "hide-and-seek?" After the countdown, the person who was "it" would call out, ready or not, here I come!
Well, Jesus did that very thing when He was birthed into His very own created humanity over 2000 years ago. Whether we were ready or not, there He was... and there He IS today. The arrival of Christmas creates a crossroads in our lives. Whatever we are experiencing (good or bad, joyful or traumatic) Christmas comes. Jesus comes. Here are some very typical crossroads people deal with at this time of year:
1: At the Crossroads of Hope and Disappointment:
An unwanted medical diagnosis, the destruction of a relationship through broken trust, the loss of a career, the death of a loved one, and other similar life events don't reschedule themselves for Christmas. How can one experience hope when life seems so disappointing? Jesus creates hope first and foremost because of who He is, not what He does. Jesus IS hope, Jesus does not just dispense hope.
The hard truth is that hope is hard to experience during disappointment. We may cry out to Jesus like Mary and Martha did "If you had been here, this wouldn't have happened." Jesus will weep with us because He empathizes in our condition.
2: At the Crossroads of Joy and Depression:
If you are a person who suffers with depression, Christmas has the potential to deepen the darkness. The increased light only reveals the severity of your own darkness. Am I right? If you experience shame because of the depression, then highlighting the depression only deepens the shame, and a whirlpool of destruction begins that wants to suck you under into even deeper depths of pain. Like Peter, who began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus while walking on water, we must keep our eyes on Jesus while we're in our most fragile places. Just take Jesus' hand. He's not going to shame you more for feeling depression and shame. He will take your hand and lift you up.
3: At the Crossroads of Anxiety and Peace:
Panic attacks and anxiety are the polar opposite of peace. One is chaos and the other is the absence of chaos. But, for those who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, the worst advice you can hear is, "Just stop that." Seriously? People would stop it in a moment if they could, but the solution is never that easy. It is good news that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He is the Ruler that can remove the chaos. We need an on-going process of taking our chaos captive and submitting it to the Lordship of Jesus. Cast your cares on Him this Christmas, because He cares for you.
4: At the Crossroads of Exclusion and Inclusion:
People shun one another. We do this for various reasons. We view them as untouchable because of sin, behavior, actions, choices, language, disagreement, status, you name it. Are you getting shunned this Christmas in any way, shape or form? If you are, then you can't stand the images of whole families gathered or friends embracing over exchanging perfect gifts. You likely can't even stomach the pasted-on smiles of those who are not interested in your pain. Jesus includes. People exclude. If you are excluded for any reason this Christmas, reach upward and outward to Jesus. If you're fortunate, you'll find a person who knows Jesus who is willing to include you with no strings attached. You will also save yourself much pain and heartache by forgiving those who shunned you and freeing yourself to be healed.
5: At the Crossroads of Illness and Healing:
Why am I sick at Christmas!? Why am I going through this chronic illness? Why? Illness, sickness and disease are part of the human condition. There was plenty of it when Jesus was born. There is plenty of it today. Jesus is all about restoration based on His presence, not just His miracles. Jesus has already provided for your eternity while in the midst of this temporary, broken body. Christmas is a time to stare into eternity, even while in the midst of our temporary. Our bodies grow weak, suffer, hurt, break, and ultimately die. Jesus is LIFE. It's already provided for. Earthly illness may disrupt your earthly celebration, but the eternal healing of Jesus will present you to the Father spotless and whole in eternity. Amen!
Ready or not, here comes Christmas...
Let the disappointed find hope;
Let the depressed find joy;
Let the anxious find peace;
Let the excuded find inclusion;
Let the ill find wholeness.
In the powerful name of Christ Jesus who lives and reigns in heaven now and forever more. AMEN.
It's hard to hear the truth about ourselves, isn't it? I mean, do you wake up every morning praying, "Lord, please bring someone into my path today who will tell me the blunt truth of my shortcomings?" I'm quite certain you do not pray that prayer. However, if you and I will experience true and lasting transformative change, it will come through a confrontation of the truth. The truth of my sin, my faults, the ways I've harmed myself and others by my own hand, and the reality of the consequences I'm suffering because of my own choices.
Hard to hear.
So, in an age where you and I are less likely to accept responsibility for anything we do, we prefer to be counseled by Jesus in the THIRD PERSON. In other words, Jesus is free to speak about a topic, like the need to forgive, but Jesus is NOT free to speak about a lack of forgiveness IN ME. We prefer a Jesus who speaks about things indirectly to us.
There's a huge problem with this: People don't change.
In my years of public speaking as a pastor, I have learned that people will listen to an indirect, third-person, idea about a generalized condition, but get seriously offended if you point out that the condition of which you speak is present in them. I see meme after meme on social media saying "Be Jesus today." I'm sure I've said it myself. But are we prepared for a version of Jesus that counsels in the FIRST PERSON? Directly, not indirectly, is the way of Jesus.
To the Pharisees He says, "Your father is the devil..."
To the Disciples He says, "Are you still so dull..."
To the Woman at the Well He says, "You've had five husbands..."
To the Crowd He says, "You only follow me because you ate and had your fill..."
To Jerusalem He says, "You were unwilling..."
To Peter He says, "You will deny me three times..."
Jesus isn't going to lie to us or flatter us, nor is He going to speak about our condition indirectly in the third person. He will speak to me, about me, truthfully, honestly, directly, bluntly, and lovingly.
One thought about the "love" factor. Is it loving for me to never tell you the truth because I might offend you? Was Jesus not loving when He spoke all those things above? Of course He was loving... so much so, that He tells the truth, because the truth leads to true and everlasting change. Truth delivers while flattery and indirectness allows us to continue in our errors.
Today, be Jesus to someone you love, and let Jesus be Jesus to you because He loves you.
Let our counseling be in the first person, not the third.
Psalms 42:5 NIV Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Whenever we are troubled our first instinct is to look externally to every person, detail, condition, and/or circumstance around us. But, is the trouble in our soul really due to something outside of us, or inside of us? The psalmist got it right when he asks the questions in Psalms 42:5. He asks, "Why so disturbed within me?" Today, most people, and indeed many Christ-followers that I witness, change the question into a statement, and the blame is always placed on something or someone else. "I know why I'm so disturbed within me and it's you or that or this!"
Stop blaming. Start looking within.
The antidote for this spiritual disturbance is placing our hope in God, and praising God. That's really not meant to be an oversimplified answer. It is actually quite deep if you'll allow it to be. Today, we Americans live in a culture of disturbance. Everyone is disturbed about something and everyone has the right to be disturbed about anything. Perturbed, disturbed, aggravated, cynical, anxious, worried, tense... these are all unhealthy constants that have been welcomed into the culture today. The psalmist recognized his inner disturbance and sought a solution. Do you recognize your inner disturbance(s)? Do you want a solution or do you want to throw more gas on the fire?
You, and only you, can face your own disturbances and subject them to the will of God in Christ Jesus. You, and only you, can take captive every thought. You, and only you, can instigate the antidotes of hope and praise to cease the illness caused by your inner disturbances.
Stop blaming. Stop complaining. Start hoping. Start praising.
Psalm 42 begins with a very well-known passage:
Psalms 42:1-2 NIV As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. (2) My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
Look within. Look to God. Yearn for Him. Thirst for Him. Be un-disturbed. Be unburdened of your needless troubles. Do not follow the world's ways for parading your disturbances.
How would your life be different if you emitted the essence of hope and praise instead of disturbed, disgruntled, disgusted, dis-eased?
Today's changing world presents an unprecedented time in history. Changes in values and beliefs, elevation of individualism and relevant truth; all there have people turning from Jesus to other "religions" of idolatry. As the world has changed, so has the American church. While this is not true of all Christians in America, I believe it is partly true that many Christians have become tense, angry, anxious, loud, nervous, verbally accusatory, and filled with animosity and hatred toward other people. Here's a good example to apply to what is wrong with that approach... If you own a piece of furniture that is white and you want it to be blue, you can either scrape off all of the old color, or simply paint it the new color. This begs the question of Christians today... what is in your hand? A scraper, trying to rid the world of the color you do not like, or a brush, filling the world with the color of Christ?
People don't seem to run to Christians who have scrapers in their hands. We point out the flaws of individuals, organizations, governments, leaders, and all those other "evil doers" out there like evil is something new that the world has never experienced. We scrape with our words, emotions, and actions that do nothing more than stir up further animosity toward Jesus and His church.
I believe today, people need Christian Painters... people who carry with them the color of Christ and know how to paint healing, redemption, grace, mercy and justice over the landscape. Again, we paint with the power of Christ that manifests itself in love, mercy, grace, physical-emotional-relational-spiritual healing, freedom, justice, kindness, etc. etc.
Scraping accomplishes the work of the devil's choosing.
Painting accomplishes the work of Jesus Christ.
Scraping is the work of the kingdoms of this world.
Painting is the work of Kingdom of God and of His Christ.
I say this mainly because of the dilemma facing the children of God this election year. We have before us a selection of candidates that leave us with no choices to satisfy our conscience. In any direction we find candidates that stand on principles that are not of the Kingdom of God and we don't know what to do. I hear Christians coining outright nasty names for candidates and saying very pointed schoolyard childish insults at them. I really must ask any of you insult-hurling Christ followers; "Is that really the best way to represent Jesus in this crucial moment in history?"
When we get out our paint scrapers and try to scrape the evil off the world, we are no different than Peter, who thinking he was doing Jesus a big favor, chopped off the ear of the soldier who came to arrest Him. What did Jesus do? He healed his ear, then told Peter to put away his sword.
Put away your paint scraper. Those who live by the scraper will die by the scraper.
Psalms 143:11 CEV Be true to your name, LORD, and keep my life safe. Use your saving power to protect me from trouble.
Once upon a time I held the false belief that God's nature was to hunt people down and expose their faults. This false belief was rooted in two things: 1) The fact that people had treated me in this way, and 2) My misinterpretation of God's character based on #1. Nothing good comes from this view. Yet, it is undeniable that, on the pages of scripture, we read story after story of times that God seeks to reveal sin that is lurking in, and harming His people. And there is the point... sin harms us, but God heals us. The only way for healing to happen is to expose sin for what it is.
Being exposed is never comfortable, but is entirely necessary. This creates a problem for the church of today. People largely seek a church experience that is always encouraging, topically light, mostly entertaining, full of 'blessing', filled with words of comfort and consolation, and non-confrontational. The intent of God is healing and completeness; holiness and salvation. In order to get there, God has to expose us for who we are. The exposure leads to the very best of God's healing work. Exposure is designed to produce godly sorrow, repentance, humility, revelation, and a starting point from which healing begins.
Being exposed for who we really are is an act of God's grace. Being left alone is sin is an act of abandonment. Grace leads to life... abandonment leads to death. God doesn't abandon us, He pursues us. A pursuing God is an exposing God. An exposing God is a loving God. A loving God is a God we can trust entirely.
Once we have been exposed into the hands, care, and healing power of our Trustworthy God, we can learn to share vulnerably about our life and our experiences. Once God heals, the experiences that once harmed us become the tools of healing for another when they are exposed by our own voice as we tell our stories.
Have you been exposed by God? Are you ready to bare all for Him to set you free? Do you know the joy that others could find through your story? Let God in to do what only He can do. Take the risk of being vulnerable before God and then experience the beauty of being vulnerable before others.
Blindness can be mimicked with a blindfold. Deafness is duplicated with ear plugs. Paralysis can be mimicked with the refusal to move your limbs. In other words, perfectly functioning organs can have their freedom stolen from them by a conscious act of the will to refuse them their ability to act freely.
The number of Christians who have self-imposed blindness, deafness, and paralysis is staggering. God did not give them a spirit of fear but of a sound mind and of power.
But bondage, when it reigns in a stronghold of the human mind, has a language. Bondage says:
You and I were designed by God in this age to be so free in Him that His Kingdom naturally flows through us to the world around us. In order for us to allow our spiritual "eyes" to see, our spiritual "ears" to hear, and our spiritual "limbs" to function properly, we must remove all blindfolds, ear-plugs, and restrictions. The implications of what happens when God's people are enslaved in their own minds are huge. People are not hearing the gospel, therefore they cannot respond to the gospel. When prayers never leave our mouths, answers are never delivered. When our ears are stopped up, we cannot hear the voice of our Lord who has so very much to say to us. Visions remain unseen, dreams are held back, and the gospel is handcuffed.
Bill Johnson, Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA says this: "The Holy Spirit is a prisoner in the lives of unbelieving believers." I agree wholeheartedly. The Holy Spirit will never do through you that which you are unwilling to allow Him.
Dear friends, let us lay aside all bondage and seek the power of God, the love of God, the healing words and touch of God, the prayers of the saints, the presence of God and the message of God. Let us seek to inject the spirit of Christ into every area of our lives regardless of the constrictions real or imagined. Let us end all disbelief and be the disciples our Lord has called us to be.
May the LORD Himself be glorified in you, through you, and for the world this day and always. Be FREE.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ...
There is nothing like a stronghold of the mind to keep a person from living a truly free life in Jesus. Strongholds of the mind create mental attachments to persons, places and/or things that are very strong. When the strength of those strongholds exceeds that of our trust and faith in God, we fail to move forward into God's true purpose and plans for our lives.
The Kingdom of God does not come to earth through you when you are not free. Power flows through faith and trust in God that surrenders all to Him. True faith and trust in God is found when our greatest, and indeed only attachment is to Jesus and Jesus alone. Here are three ways we can find ourselves held back from true freedom. Each of these three are mental strongholds that keep us back. They start in the mind, then the body follows the mind.
We value safety over risk.
There is high value placed on safety today. Our culture wears helmets and pads for every activity. We are always looking for ways to be free from any possibility of harm. We seek financial safety by stockpiling money in our markets. We seek occupational safety through excellent performance at work. Following Jesus requires we lay our earthly safety aside and trust God for everything. God asks us to risk everything on His ability, not ours. How is your thinking in regards to risking for God?
We value familiar over unfamiliar.
Having things go predictably gives us great comfort. Many people are shaken by the unexpected, the unfamiliar, and the exceptions to the rules. We set schedules and expect them to be followed. God is much more spontaneous than that. He will call us to unfamiliar places, to be with unfamiliar people, and ask us to do unfamiliar things. Do you thrive on the familiar? Are you happiest when everything goes as planned? How is your thinking in regards to letting God take you into unfamiliar territory?
We value natural over supernatural.
God's supernatural power flows through those who have complete faith and trust in His ability and desire to perform the miraculous in this earth. Our tendency is toward the natural. Whatever we can do in our efforts is what we can do. We trust tangible, hands-on, methodical, calculable, concrete ways over expecting the supernatural to manifest on earth. Do you live out of the resources of the natural world or do you have bold faith and expectation in the supernatural reality of God? How is your thinking in regards to expectantly seeking God's supernatural power in your everyday life?
Begin today, taking every thought captive and submitting them to obey Christ. And be gloriously free in your mind!
Have you ever found yourself in a place of emotional, physical or spiritual weakness? Sure. We all have at times because that's part of the human condition. One of the most beautiful aspects of being a child of God and a follower of His Son, Jesus is that He promises to be the needed supply for the strength we lack. However, I still think we miss the point many times as to just how this happens. Have you ever asked God, "Why aren't You doing something about my weakness?" "Please restore my strength!"
"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 10:9b-10)
Paul actually enters a place of "glad boasting" when he is weak. How can this be? Because God had just told Him that His grace was sufficient for him. Paul's tone of voice is elevated and his spirits soaring when he is weak. He is elevated in spirit because God has promised what he lacks. It's the promise that causes his soul to rejoice! When we are weak and afflicted there is no cause to bemoan our condition. It's difficult to understand, yes, but if our focus changes to the strength of God, then our minds are fixed on the proper target. In the everyday world most people don't get happy over their weakness. When their strength is restored is when they will throw a party and celebrate. With the child of God, we are given the ability to rejoice when we are weak because the grace of God is there to fill every gap.
Have you ever considered that you are best poised to experience the power of God in ways that are truly authentic and astonishing when you are weak? The strength of God is not necessarily designed to erase your weakness, but rather to display its full and miraculous strength IN your weakness. In other words, in the very midst of my weakness, that is exactly when God shows up and displays His power.
Perhaps our praying in the midst of weak times should change from, "God please remove my weakness and give me strength." ... to "God, I thank you for your grace that is all sufficient to sustain me, and pray my weakness will be the opportunity You need to display Your mighty power through me!" The first prayer focuses on our need, the second focuses on God's power. The first prayer is asking God to do something for you. The second prayer is asking God to do something through you.
If you're in a place of emotional, spiritual or physical weakness today, try approaching your day asking God to do something powerful through you, instead of something beneficial for you.
Thrill seekers are people who are always on the lookout for the next experience that will energize their life with passion, emotion, physical danger, euphoria, joy, elation, or a host of other emotional and physical thrills. In the Kingdom of God, the thrills that God's children experience are not to be like that of the world. There are three primary "thrills" that every follower of Jesus should be seeking after. If we are not seeking for, nor experiencing these three thrills, then lesser, worldly thrills will have to try to keep our attention in church.
What is it like to be a thrill-seeker in the Kingdom of God?
Pastors and church leaders are constantly under the pressure of conforming to the ways of the world when it comes to the church. Whether we like it or not, the world in which we live, work, raise our children, and participate in life, becomes the model we try to superimpose upon the church. Jesus, however, saw things differently. He wants to superimpose His Kingdom in all the earth. He wants to change the world's culture to match heaven, and the world wants to change the church culture to match earth. Ugh. What are we to do?
For one, we can refuse to conform to the ways of this world. As children of the Living God, we must refuse the world's mindset and ways when it comes to the church. Here's a small list of worldly ways many people still want to fashion the church after, and we'd be better off without them.
1. "The Customer is Always Right." In other words, the church serves me and if I'm not pleased, well then I'll just take my worship elsewhere. If the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, where is there room for the consumer mindset? There is no room for consumerism in Christianity.
2. "I'm Entitled to My Opinion." Relative truth has crept in to many of the church's ways. When it comes to the interpretation of scripture and beliefs, the church has become just as susceptible to personal, relative truth as the rest of the world. This should not be so. Increasingly it seems that I hear of people speaking out their personal beliefs and they cannot even support them through the scriptures. Presented with sound wisdom from the Living Word, they will still not change direction and simply say, "well. that's how I believe."
3. "So-and-So wasn't nice to me." This mindset comes from dysfunctional family and organizational systems. The focus is on self and not on others. Feet washing, burden carrying, love extending, compassion giving, merciful servants are more worried about others than they are themselves. The world is full of self-focused ideals, but not the Body of Christ... we are to be others-focused.
4. "There's not a lot going on." Pastors are not Activities Directors, they are Shepherds and Spiritual Guides. The primary activity of all disciples is working to see the Kingdom of God established on earth as it is in heaven. We are all called to the work of ministry for Jesus. Pastors are not called to keep a full menu of activities floating for the people. If you feel there is not enough going on, then commit your life to ministry and do something!
There are many more that could be used as examples, but the point is clear: We should not conform the church to the ways of the world. The church has an identity, purpose, calling, King, ways, empowerment, government, leadership model, economy and life all its own. It is unique above and outside anything the world does.
Refusing to conform is hard, but I'm committed to the Kingdom, not the world. I'm just one pastor, but I will stand before Jesus one day and tell Him with a clear conscience that I contended for His Kingdom always.
One of the most comforting, loving and compassionate images of God in the Bible is found in Romans Chapter Eight, where the Apostle Paul explains in great detail what it is like to be a part of the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul uses the language of sonship, "Abba", heirs, and adoption to describe the intimate nature of the relationship we have with God because of Jesus.
From an Abusive House to A House of Peace and Love.
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." (Romans 8:15 NIV)
As slaves to sin we have all lived in an abusive atmosphere. Make no mistake about it, the devil himself has abused you and me with countless acts of harassment, accusation, self-harm, self-destruction, self-degradation, abomination, guilt, hatred, shame, abuse of others, and so much more. Satan is an abusive spirit. When you come to Christ you are no longer subjected to that abuse. Paul tells us that our Father in Heaven does not deal in fear. God doesn't wield fear before us, nor does He ever subject us to intentionally abusive things. We are no longer sons of the devil! We are sons of God the Father and have been snatched out of an abusive house and placed into a house of peace and love.
From the view of a child... Imagine the freedom you would feel knowing that your days of abuse were over and that you now lived in an environment on peace and love and trust with a Father who would never abuse you. Adopted kids realize that family is more than biology... family is a term reserved for those who love intentionally and have the child's best interests at heart.
From a House of Thievery to a House of Abundance.
Abused children know what it's like to have things stolen from them. Childhood, opportunity, inheritance, dignity, innocence, and sanity can all be stolen from us. There is nothing your abuser can take from you that God will not repay multiple times over in His house of abundance. The Father does not give as the world gives, but He surpasses what was stolen.
"Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (Romans 8:17 NIV) Paul says that we actually have a status as co-heirs with Christ! What kind of inheritance is Jesus receiving? Those of us who are in Christ will share in that inheritance. God doesn't deal in thievery. God deals in abundance. God doesn't deal in treasures where "moth and rust destroy," He deals in the treasures found in the storehouse of heaven.
From the view of a child... Unexpectedly and beautifully, the Father will begin to not only stop the stealing, but begin the investment of abundance in them. Imagine the joy of the child who would probably be content to just be safe and free from the abuse and the thievery, but then begins to receive abundance on top of that!
From a House of Loss to a House of Victory.
"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." (Romans 8:37 NIV)
The devil takes advantage of helplessness and humiliates people in their weakness. God deals in elevation, strength, and edification. He helps us in our weakness and gives us "more-than-conqueror" status through our adoption. Before Christ we were losers, even though we might be winners in the world's eyes. In Christ we are winners even though we might be losers in the world's eyes. Those who have the world's fame and fortune know what kind of fight it is to maintain that. Those who are adopted can rest because their status of "son" is not something you have to fight for every day.
From the view of a child... Language of humiliation vanishes in God's house. Setups for failure and false promises all go away. Imagine being sure that every action your adoptive Father takes is truly in your best interest. Amazing!
From a House of Insecurity to a House of Assurance.
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39 NIV) Abused children know what it is like to have to perform properly to try to earn the "love" of their abusive parent. In God's house, His adopted children need not perform in order to receive love. His love is present and decided ahead of time. The devil wants us insecure and edgy, not knowing the next target to hit for approval. God wants us secure and steadfast in the knowledge and experience of His unconditional love.
From the view of a child... Children who are loved unconditionally are secure, not spoiled; loved, not rejected; treasured, not used; formed, not manipulated. As a child in God's house, we can know, sense, experience, and live freely within such a great love.
Adoption ... beautiful.
The most precious things about you are to be devoted to God. The best, the most valuable, the most useful, the brightest, the most productive, the most influential, the well-tuned skills, the best of your mind and body are all to be devoted to God. If this is true (and it is) why do we give Him mostly leftovers and table scraps?
When the Israelites took Jericho they were told by God to save the articles of gold and silver and bronze. Those items, God said, were to be devoted to Him and taken into the Temple treasury.
"But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury."
(Joshua 6:18-19 NIV)
God give Jericho to the Israelites. He gave them miraculous power and force to tear down the walls without ever touching them. He gave them favor to go in to put to death every living thing with the sword. And He commanded them to return the most precious articles in their city to the treasury of God. This idea of devoted things is not negated in the New Testament. Jesus is quite clear about the needed devotion of His followers when He tells us the two greatest commandments... Love God with out whole heart, mind and strength, and to Love our Neighbor as ourselves.
Today, however, too may people misuse the concept of love to be merely emotion. If we have the right emotion for God then we think we have that commandment covered. However, love as merely an emotion is a great lie... one of the greatest lies of the devil. Today we have trouble in marriages and relationships because of this reality: Emotion with no Devotion.
Is your relationship with God based on emotion or devotion?
We know that in Jesus there is no lack in His Kingdom... but we also know that the treasury of the Kingdom of God is the people of the Kingdom. A devoted heart, hard after God, has no issues with earthly treasure and devotes not only earthly treasures, but the living sacrifice of their own lives, to Jesus.
Devotion means nothing is held back.
Devotion means different priorities.
Devotion means intentional sacrifice.
Devotion means your best is God's. period.
Today, reflect on your own relationship with God and determine to be not just a person of emotional love toward God, but a person of true devotion to God.
Have you ever wondered what would have become of Eden had Eve and Adam eaten from the Tree of Life first and obeyed God? Eden was but one small location within a very large earth and the first two humans were told to have dominion over the earth and to multiply and fill it. Eden was perfect and yet incomplete. It was designed to expand.
God gives us starting points for exploration, then sends us into the wonder and mystery of uncovering what we find. He does this, I believe, because there is something inherently good about the process of seeking and finding. A need in us is actually met; a yearning is satisfied when we seek and explore; uncover and study the depths of God.
I have come to learn that this is true of God's prophetic words as well. When God gives a vision, it is our own personal Eden. It is a starting point, then calls us and draws us to a great exploration of what He wants to reveal to us. God's words are intriguing and mystifying. They are full of hints and lures. They calls us deeper into the mystery of who He is. They call us deeper into the mystery of who we are. God knows that we learn the best lessons through discovery.
When I was a kid, our family got a new riding lawn mower. The old one had broken down, so, after the purchase was made, the old one was given to me to tear apart and explore. I loved tearing apart that old lawn mower, looking inside every nook and corner to see what made that thing tick. I believe God wants us to do the same thing with His Kingdom. Pentecost was perfect and yet incomplete. It was designed to expand.
"Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end." (Isaiah 9:7a NIV)
We are agents of increase.
We are explorers.
We are seekers and discoverers.
We are agents of multiplication.
We are made more mature in Christ through searching and finding.
We are made for pondering and reflecting.
We are designed to dig and uncover.
Perhaps God has spoken to you with a still, small voice. He gives you a vision or a single word. Have you ever pondered that word searching it relentlessly for meaning and layers of implications? God alone does this kind of good work. He knows us better than we know ourselves. If you've received a word and yet have not explored it, I would encourage you to do so. He's calling you into something deeper if you will explore it.
I pray today that you will be changed by what is revealed as you explore the mysteries of God.
Jesus only has one Kingdom. Is Christ divided? Is Christ denominated? Are His thoughts or ways double-minded or split in their meaning? Of course not. While so many seek to establish their own kingdoms (little "k"), I still believe that Jesus wants us building His Kingdom (Big "K"). From my observations, those who concern themselves with Big K ministry are the most fruitful.
Big K Christians build what Jesus intended to build.
Jesus said, "I will build my church." He's building, and we're on the labor force. He owns the vineyard, and we've been hired to tend it. He bought humanity with His blood and we proclaim it. All authority has been given to Him and we share in it by being called. When we leave the mindset of building churches and move into the mindset of building the Kingdom of God, Jesus blesses it! Big K Christians are looking to build the Kingdom every day, in every location, with any person, at every opportunity, led by the Holy Spirit, and always watchful.
Big K Christians create unity in the Body of Christ.
Everything in Christ is whole and unified. Nothing is divided. The Holy Trinity is united, all of creation works in harmony, and so should it be with the Body of Christ. Big K Christians seek unity and wholeness in the body of Christ. They don't draw boundaries or issue sanctions based on human boundaries or definitions. A Kingdom of all nations unifies the human race across all lines... slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female. If we're building what Jesus wants us to build, then unity is implied.
Big K Christians don't care who get's the credit.
Big K Christians don't parade their accomplishments. If they build the Kingdom and the people who come into the Kingdom don't attend their local church, they experience no anxiety over that... only joy. People who seek credit are self-seeking. People who seek the Kingdom are ... well, Kingdom seeking and nothing else matters. As a pastor, I'm not after anyone else's church members and I can't stress is someone from my church moves or leaves or changes location. Jesus is in control and I will also work tirelessly to see to it that other ministry efforts flourish. Why? Big K.
Big K Christians understand God's economy of things.
Since Christ has one Kingdom, He also has one pool of resources from which to operate. If He directs our church to give something away, then we somehow receive. You simply can't outgive God! This is not the prosperity gospel that promises checks in your mailbox if you plant a financial seed, but rather God's economy ... that if you give away for the sake of the Kingdom, then you will receive as you seek to build the Kingdom. Your excess isn't yours to keep and your need isn't your issue. Trust enough to lavish your resources on the Kingdom and trust enough for God to meet your needs. Big K Christians don't fret over who's got the money and they don't store up endowments to ensure that what they have built will continue. God is not the Great "I will be," He is the Great "I Am." He is omnipresent.
Big K Christians "Get it."
Because of all this, big K Christians just simply "get it." They see the world as Jesus wants it to be seen. They see harvest everywhere. They see Kingdom opportunity everywhere. They rejoice when every true Kingdom fellowship flourishes and hurt when they hurt. They understand that they have freely received, so they freely give.
Are you a Big K Christian?
Here is a warning that is worth taking to heart: "Beware of establishing traditions in the Kingdom of God." Why? Because God is the only being in all of History that is the "I Am." Everything else is "i am." As a Pastor who serves in a Wesleyan-Methodist denomination, I've seen how great moves of God in the past become monuments in the present. I have seen people passionately defend traditions more than faith itself. I have heard language that treats methods from the first Methodist movement as if they were more sacred than scripture, and more desirous than the very presence of God.
All traditions begin as powerful experiences:
Consider the hymns. If you were to investigate the stories behind them you would discover that the authors of those songs were inspired through deep pain, great joy, passionate experiences, revival fire, and the like. People were touched in the moment and the song caught on. From that moment, of a soul being stirred by a particular experience and the expression of that experience, the human tendency is to reproduce that experience over and over again.
All traditions are fed by seeking repetitive blessings from old wine and old wine skins.
Once the fire is birthed in our hearts from a particular experience we seek to make it a tradition. Like an addict we seek to relive the same-old-high over and over again. The problem is, we're seeking the "high" from something "low." We're seeking a spiritual experience from earthly things.
Manifestations of God's Movements are Evidence of True Spirituality, but not spiritual in and of themselves.
The hymn is only the manifestation of a spiritual work in the heart of the author. Every form flows out of an encounter with God. The encounter is not in the form, the encounter is with God Himself. Because of this truth, all Christians must be careful not to worship objects of any kind, events, locations, people, art-forms and the like.
If a person knows God ... really, truly knows God... worship and experiences with God can happen in any location at any time, in any way. God becomes the constant for our lives and the rest is just stuff.
The truth is that many churches have this unspoken rule: You can worship God with us as long as you do so in the framework of our traditions. Traditions are not only old, they are new things as well. New songs and new methods can become just as addictive as old forms and methods.
Traditions cause division.
Traditions in the familial sense, cause division even though many would argue that they cause unity. Think about a newly married couple who faces their first Thanksgiving holiday as husband and wife. Whose family tradition will they honor? Will they go to the husband's family gathering or the wife's? Who will they say "no" to and how much guilt will be heaped on them for not honoring the family tradition? Are not our families worth more to us than our traditions? Is your family a family because of the tradition, or was the tradition just a manifestation of the mutual love you share? Evelvate the love and crucify the tradition.
The same is true in churches. Worship was never intended to be traditional (whether old or new) it was intended to be sacrificial and spiritual.
In the end, the simple solution is the have clear understanding of what is truly important. Worship God and God alone. Enjoy the manifestations that are birthed in the community of faith through moments of rejoicing, pain, revival and so forth. The moment they happen, beware of establishing a tradition.
One glaring example is the song "The Heart of Worship." It has a powerful story of how a worship leader wrestled with their own modern-day traditionalism and returned to true worship. The result? A generation of song-followers who worshiped the song. We must be very, very careful of our tendency toward traditionalism in all its forms.
Here is how we get from life-giving God experiences to death-inducing traditions:
I have a confession to make. I'm a chronic people-pleaser. I didn't get here over night and learning to handle the condition in my life and learn to manage it is a daily struggle. If you have the people-pleaser gene you hear every comment of every person through this filter: I Must do something about what was just said to me. Once people know you respond this way, they tend to over-use and abuse you because they know the rule: pull the string and get a response. Being godly is not about people pleasing. Jesus wasn't a people pleaser... he was a Father-pleaser... Jesus was holy and whole.
People pleasers can learn to say "no" but they must also learn to release the anxiety that comes with the results of saying "no." Once you refuse to please the person, you actually disrupt yourself. It's easier to say yes and bear the brunt of whatever comes sometimes than it is to say no and bear the anxiety. Anybody out there with me? So what is a chronic people-pleaser supposed to do in terms of following Jesus? Quite simply, we please God first and let Him deal with the demands of people.
God is not a people pleaser. In fact, much of God's interactions with His beloved creation are not "pleasing" at all. Quite the opposite. God is more dis-pleasing than pleasing because God is holy... higher... eternal... wiser... greater. God doesn't need to please you to get your vote because He is already the Supreme King of the Universe, Casting a vote against God only harms yourself. Being a wise leader that appropriately handles the numerous expectations of people is part of a pastor's job. We are the ears that hear the vast array of feedback (especially negative) that comes from the flock. Here are some lessons I've learned as a pastor who is learning to overcome chronic people-pleasing.
1. Know when to engage and disengage. Some feedback requires response, but not all feedback requires response. Weigh every situation and consider every source of feedback. If the source is good, sound, just and accurate in their assessment, then listen carefully and learn. If the source is emotional, reactive, self-seeking, pot-stirring and such, then listen carefully and teach the person (albeit with difficult truth) about what is happening in them. Sometimes it's godly for me to learn from feedback and sometimes its godly for me to teach out of feedback.
2. If you've been spinning plates for people unnecessarily, let the plates fall and break. If you find yourself caught in the trap of constantly responding to people's demands, that cycle of behavior is unhealthy and must stop. If you hand is constantly spinning that plate balancing on the top of the pole, there comes a time when you must release your hands of the plate. Quite simply, it's not a pastor's job to manage someone else's life. Being a good shepherd means you raise healthy sheep, not dependent sheep. If I die tomorrow, who will respond to everyone's demands? People will survive without the over-engaging involvement of a people-pleaser. Step away from the plates and let the people learn to manage.
3. Is God Pleased? ... THAT is the question. I am a pastor of people, but I am first a child of God. You can only serve one Master. Either you will please people and not please the Father, or you will please the Father and not please people. I've learned that people pleasing takes energy that otherwise is best given to my relationship with God. If I'm going to seek to fulfill anyone's expectations I will seek to please the One who died for me, not the one who would rather I die for them.
4. All Good Leadership Takes People Through Difficult Change. You can't be a people pleaser and lead people to spiritual growth. All spiritual growth that lasts comes through a crucible. The best lessons in life are learned in the meat grinder. Good leadership knows how to recognize those moments and help people through them, and not giving in to the temptation to just keep everyone comfortable. Good leaders lead... we're not flight attendants or waiters... we're there to help people develop in their own godliness, getting out of God's way to let Him do His work in other's hearts.
In general, pastors are called to lead others and teach others to do the work of ministry. It is not the pastor's job to do all of the ministry. There is much more that could be said on this topic. For instance:
Brett Heintzman is passionate about the spiritual formation of God's people. These writings are designed to draw us close to God and to help us live out of the riches of His presence. It's all about being in the world but not of the world.