Saturday

Invest Yourself in Your Community

It had been only three or four days since I heard first whisper to me, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you,” and in those few days, two other people have come to me with the same message. They’re the first two people who have brought that particular verse to me in more than a decade.

Jeremiah 29:3-9: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. ‘For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD.

There is a commonly held opinion in the church today that we are now raising the last generation that will live on this planet, that the end of this world is near and that Jesus will soon come back to collect His bride and take home to Him in Heaven. I’ve known some young believers who jokingly engage in “Rapture Practice”: standing outdoors and jumping towards heaven, arms outstretched, as if to be taken heavenward any second.

And I’ve heard some Christians grow frustrated with the leaders of this world, and write them off with, “Aww, they can have it!” the clear implication being that they are soon to abandon this world for the next. I remember old hymns by the names of “I’ll Fly Away” and “I’ve Got A Mansion, Way Up Yonder.”

On the other hand, there are other believers who live from day to day, not paying much attention to the imminent return of Christ, or to the degradation of the world around them. Some display a measure of irresponsibility, but most live as members of society, holding down a job, raising a family, making mortgage payments, and attending church faithfully. Whether they believe in an imminent rapture or not appears to have no visible bearing on their behavior. They’re the same today as they were ten years ago, and the same as their fathers were thirty years ago.

Both groups are in error, of course; the “Steady Eddie’s” for ignoring the approaching Day, and the Rapture Fanatics for ignoring their assignments on Earth.

The writer of Hebrews encourages us to be away of the drawing near of that day, and to make changes in our lives accordingly:

Hebrews 10:24-25: And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (emphasis added)

The way I see it, we’re supposed to live for heaven, but we’re supposed to live on earth. We live with our eyes on our Heavenly Father, but our hands on the work that He’s given us to do on this earth.

Scripture is given, you recall, as an example to us. Daniel is an example:

Daniel 2:48-49 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.

And Joseph is an example:

Genesis 41:39-45: Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you." 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt."

42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph's hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, "Bow the knee!" So he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Pharaoh also said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt."

There’s a verse that I’ve been puzzling about for a long time. Finally, with this command of “Invest in your community, Son,” it begins to make sense:

Luke 19:13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. (KJV)

A newer translation says it this way:

Luke 19:13-14 So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business till I come.' (NKJV)

The English word “occupy” is a military word; it means you’ve already conquered the territory, now keep it governed for the new rulers. The Greek word for “occupy” or “do business” is pragmate├║omai and it is a business term, but it’s a term of ownership, not busywork. It means both “Be engaged in a business for profit,” and “be occupied with reference to the affairs of state.

God is looking for a gain, a profit, an increase from us, which means that we must invest the resources that He’s given us into the people and circumstances that He’s placed around us.

Clearly, He’s not looking for money from us; “You can’t take it with you” clearly applies, but having money is a fine way to accomplish a profit in terms of lives, of influence, of relationship. Have you noticed how much influence the wealthy have as compared to the poor?

So the command is to invest in the community that God has placed you into.

‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you….’

Our place is to be in the world, not of the world. The other half of that, of course, is to be of Heaven, but not yet in Heaven: we have a job to do here.

T.B.I.

I’ve become aware recently of a great trend that has no doubt been part of the American church for a long time. It’s the making of irrelevant and meaningless excuses.
The other day, I was counseling with a man who had managed to get himself addicted to a particular brand of sin. I’ll call him Bob for convenience sake. Bob and I were discussing some of the action that he needed to take if he was going to free himself from his sin. To be fair, the course of action was a challenging one, but he and I both agreed that it was necessary if he was going to get free. And then he pulls out the excuse from hell:
“But that’s so hard!”
When I hear that excuse – and I hear it often – I groan inside. Bob’s right, of course: it will be difficult. But then it’s a difficult task he proposes: extricating himself from persistent sin to which he has been enslaved for some time.
The problem with that excuse is that it’s true, but it’s irrelevant. Yes, it is a difficult road he proposes, but so what? The choice, contrary to Bob’s evaluation, is not between “that which is hard” and “that which is not hard.” Rather, it’s between “continued enslavement” or “freedom.” Freedom, by nature, requires hard choices.
Both roads are difficult, of course, but our flesh is eager to agree with the enemy that the road to freedom is hard. The devil is not particularly forthcoming when it comes to acknowledging the trials of enslavement or addiction.
I’ve come up with a response – for my own amusement – to those excuses: TBI: True But Irrelevant. I’m fascinated by the number of times we come up with excuses to obedience that are true, but completely irrelevant to the heart of the matter.
Recently, I was talking to a businessman who is faced with some challenging circumstances in his business; I’ll call him Henry. He has some tough decisions to make if his business is going to make it past its current challenges. Recently, Henry made some decisions that represent something of a moral compromise; not a big one, but they mean that he’ll break his word to some people who count on his truthfulness. We were talking about his business, and I brought this up. His was to explain why he “needed” to make this compromise and why it wasn’t really that bad. “I didn’t have any choice! We have a problem in the company!”
TBI.
Yes, it's true, Henry does have that problem in his business, and yes, this morally compromised decision will help solve some of those problematic symptoms in his company. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a moral compromise: Henry is still breaking his word. He’s still betraying a trust, and this decision will make it harder for his staff to believe his word in the future, and I believe it will distance his business from God’s blessing.
I’m making the choice in my own life to attempt to escape this trap, to not offer irrelevant, self-centered excuses to the things that my relationship with Christ require. I’m going to attempt to deal with the issues of what is required of me, by God, by the people around me, by my circumstances.
You can pray for me.


Sunday

Missing Jesus at Bethesda

This is an interesting story:

John 5:2-9: Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water , was made well of whatever disease he had. 5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” 9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.

It seems that there were a bunch of needy folks there, enough that John called them “a great multitude.” And their need was substantial! They were sick, blind, lame, paralyzed. That strikes me as substantially needy! So we have a great multitude of people who were greatly needy. Then in walks Jesus.

This is going to be good: we have the Son of God, the Healer, the Great Physician Himself walking in among a crowd of desperately sick people. We would expect to see hundreds of healings, right, and dozens of people repenting from sin. A great revival is going to break out: we have the need, and the presence of the Son of God is there? What could be better?

But out of that multitude, only one person was healed.

I’m stuck by that: the normal pattern is the other way around: everybody who comes to Jesus with a need always had their need met. They got healed, delivered, even fed! But not this time.

I know dozens of people like that: they have huge needs. Some of them have prophetic words promising a healing or promising that Jesus will meet their need. And Jesus is there, or rather there they are in His presence. It’s the same situation: Needy people and Jesus is in the midst of them.

And one or two get healed, get their miracle, but most of the people don’t. And often, I’m one of the ones who don’t.

There’s a verse in Proverbs that talks about this:

Proverbs 13:12: Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

So we have people hoping for a healing, not being healed. We have people with huge needs, and even huge promises of God’s provision. But the hope, the longing, remains unfulfilled, and heart sickness sets in. Now the physical brokenness is accompanied by a brokenness of soul.

I see a principle: Being needy in the presence of God doesn’t change anything. Let me say it another way: making my needs known in God’s presence doesn’t change anything!

That’s not heresy, you know. It’s actually an accurate description of hundreds, maybe thousands of people in the Church.

And, I’m becoming convinced, there’s a reason: Here in the crowd, at the pool of Bethesda, nobody brought their need to Jesus. Jesus seeks one man out – I think he had a grandma praying and Jesus was answering her prayers when she sought him out – and even then, Jesus has to drag it out of the guy: “Do you want to be healed?” The guy replies in such a way as to communicate “yes” (he takes a lot longer to say it), and Jesus heals him.

So what’s going on? Unfortunately it’s simple: people were needy in Jesus’ presence, but nobody brought their need to Him. Nobody asked Him for anything. Here they are – here we are: paralyzed or blind or hopeless in one way or another, and the almighty Son of God is in our midst, but nobody is asking Him for anything. Nobody actually brings their needs to Him.

Some of the people who have unmet needs, who have a heart growing sick, have been in God’s presence with their needs, and they’ve talked about their needs in His presence, they’ve taken their needs out, they’ve taken their sick heart out and looked at it in His presence, but they haven’t actually captured His attention. They (we) haven’t brought the need to Him in such a way that His attention is brought to our place of need.

Being needy isn’t enough. Being needy in His presence isn’t enough. We need to ask. We need to bring our need to Him, and we need to leave it with Him. If we take it back then it’s ours again, and we don’t want that.

That’s hard to hear and it’s hard to say. Sometimes the very act of looking at the wound in our heart, the disappointment, the heart sickness of never having this need met is so painful that it’s a terrifying and exposing experience just looking at the wound, whether in the body or in the soul.

Bill Johnson said something fascinating once, when he was talking with a group of intercessors. “if we come away from our prayer time still burdened by the same things that were heavy on us when we started, then we weren’t praying. We were whining. There’s a difference.”

I’ve done that before. I’ve brought my need out and looked at it, talked about it, wished things were different, and some of the times that I’ve done that, I’ve done it in God’s presence. But that isn’t praying. That was whining. I brought out my need, but I never released it to Him.

I’ve done it in worship, too: I’ve been there in an environment of worship, and I’ve been in His presence there, but my attention, my focus, was on other things, some of which were my wants and needs. I missed worship; I had the opportunity to worship Him, but I hadn’t connected with Him. I was in the place where He was, but I missed His presence.

Disclaimer: I am not saying that the only reason that our prayers aren’t answered is because we never actually bring them to Jesus, because we have never actually connected our needs with His person. But I think I am saying that one of the main reasons that we don’t have our needs met is because we’re where He is, but we miss His presence. We look at our needs, we focus on our needs, and we miss Him.

Correcting an Imbalance

The reality is that the church (I hasten to add "in America") has clearly been way out of balance in several ways for the past few centuries. There are two perspectives, then, from which this contrasting perspective can come:

1) We can present the correct truth in the proper balance. Or

2) We can present the correct truth in a similar over-emphasis, opposed to the previous, erroneous over-emphasis.

Since most people who will hear a new or corrective word will hear it from their own history of imbalance, their history will impact how they hear the new word. I'm guessing that it will be strongly flavored in favor of their history: that’s what they know.

So the net result of the two options are:

1) If we present the balanced truth, it's heard and received in the context of their historical error and serves only to bump the listener's understanding a tiny bit closer toward center: they've had 40 years of error, and ONE statement that's properly balanced won't fix their understanding. Or

2) We over emphasize the correct truth, in hopes that when it's heard in the context of 40 years of error, it will bring people to a balanced perspective after the dust settles. The drawbacks of this perspective include:

a) It requires people to think for themselves, which is a sketchy proposition at best, and

b) Taken by itself, the truth thusly presented is as unbalanced as the preceding error has been, and therefore it is open to legitimate criticism, which may cause the truth to be altogether discarded and therefore become completely non-influential.

Note that pastors and teachers will typically only see the first option ("present everything in balance"), while prophets and apostles typically tend to see only the second option ("emphasize the truth"). I think evangelists just ignore the conversation while they preach to the lost. . .

I wrestle with the same thing on my blog (which you are reading now). I keep having friends correct my over-emphasis of current revelation to the point where I think my writing comes out pretty wimpy. I'm trying to learn a healthy balance, and I haven't found it: somewhere between balanced and unbalanced is the right balance…. I think. . .

It seems to me that when the OT prophets spoke, they spoke the truth bluntly and forcefully, with no attempt to balance it. But then, they're motivated as prophets, not pastors, aren’t they.

Sigh.

In reality, I suspect that God is more interested in the truth being presented, rather than the details of how it's presented. He's going to take our words - whatever words we use - and shape them with the Holy Spirit anyway.

In other words, it’s probably more important that we “speak the truth in love” than that we speak in exactly the right way, particularly if we bathe the thing in prayer.

So let’s speak up when we hear heresy, when we see the church going awry, when there are wolves among the sheep.