Showing posts with label work. Show all posts
Showing posts with label work. Show all posts

Thursday

Maximize Your Strengths

We all have strengths. It's more effective to make maximum use of our strengths rather than trying to turn weakness into strength.

There's a line of thinking in the western education system that has also influenced the western church that says if we're not good at something (say, math), then we need to develop our skills at math until it's one of our strengths, which necessarily means we don't work at our developing the areas that are already our strengths (say, writing), so they don't develop so much.

We tend to think that it’s best to be a pastor or a teacher, because that’s what we see modeled. But if that isn’t you, then you have a choice: either try to fake it, or be who you really are, even if it’s something that isn’t as well recognized.

Exercise your strengths.
Consider the Seattle Seahawks. Applying that line thinking would teach us that quarterback Russell Wilson needs to learn how to block a blitz from 275 pound linebackers, that defensive corner Richard Sherman needs to learn to learn how to function as a quietly confident offensive lineman, or that “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch, the best running back in the league, needs to develop his public media and publicity skills, and stop focusing so much on running the football.

That’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it?

What took the Seahawks to the Superbowl twice recently was each member recognizing that they have a gift that is different that others' gifts, and each member developing their strength, and trusting others' strengths in places where they are not strong.

You've seen how Marshawn treasures his offensive linemen? He buys them gifts, sometimes expensive gifts, because they do very well what he cannot, and it makes the way for him to do (very well!) what they cannot.

Yeah, that's how it works. We don’t ignore the gifts we don’t have, but neither do we focus on them. It’s absolute foolishness to ignore the gift that God has given us in order to develop what someone thinks is a more important gift.

Don't be a copycat.
It never works, anyway.
If the gift is from Holy Spirit, it’s as valuable as He is (that’s kind of a big deal). If the gift is from skill or practice or sheer determination, instead of from the Holy Spirit, then it qualifies as “wood, hay or stubble,” and it will make a nice bonfire in the day or reckoning.

I’ve got more important things to do than prepare for Heaven’s bonfire. So do you.

Use the gifts God has given you, even if you don’t know another soul with those gifts. Be you! God doesn’t need copycats.

Mid-Course Correction Going On

If you’re an observer of the church, you’ll notice something interesting: God is leading the emerging generation of believers differently than the path the generation that’s finishing their race ran on.

Even now, if you ask about priorities for the people of God, believers in the “over 40” age group will talk about theology, and the need to have all the theology right. This group talks about the Bible as the authority, though they often live as though the Sunday sermon is the real authority. (Note: “over 40” is just an approximation: some 30-year-olds belong in this group, and some 60-year-olds belong in the other.)

But if you ask believers in the “under 40” age group the same question, they won’t mention theology. This group is more focused on “How can I change the world?” and they expect to refine their theology along the way. This group also regards the Bible highly; the Bible, interpreted by the Holy Spirit, not by the pastor’s sermon, is the real authority.

The curious thing is that the second group, rather than the first is actually more Biblical: this is the model used over and over in the Book of Acts: “He said preach the good news to the whole world! Let’s go preach somewhere that nobody else has preached yet.” In fact, it has been said that Apostle Paul’s method of being led by God was something of “bumbling around in the Spirit until something happened!”

Regardless of which group you find yourself in (I think of them as the “Get The Theology Right” group and the “Change the World” group), this is not suggesting to you that theology is not important. It is of critical importance. But theology is not more important – or more urgent – than obeying the Word.

As I’ve been reflecting on this, I realize that, being in the older age bracket, I’ve been assuming that the theological questions have been the right questions to ask. I’m changing that opinion.

Curiously, when given instructions by God to go do something (such as “Go into all the world and preach the good news of the gospel”), it is the servants who insist on getting the instructions exactly right. The response of sons of the Kingdom is more along the lines of “Hey, good idea. Grab the debit card and let’s go!”

Since many of us in the older group, who have valued theology so much, are finally understanding so much more about our status as sons, not as servants, and since we’re teaching the younger believers that they’re sons, not servants, I suppose we should not be surprised that they’re making the choices that sons make, rather than making the choices that servants make, as my generation has done (much to our embarrassment).

As I’m learning more about my identity as a son, not a servant (why did nobody tell me this decades ago???), I’m coming to value the perspective of the second group more. I admire their willingness to take risks, I admire their eagerness to follow God’s leadership, and I admire how much they’re getting done!
  
I’m going to think more carefully about how to continue my ministry before the Lord.




Saturday

Five Ways of God’s Provision

I’ve been thinking about God’s provision for quite a while. I’m still working on the significance of this, but I’ve seen five ways that God provides for us in the earth. The order is significant here: from the most simple and self-sufficient to the more complex, more interactive, more dependent on others.
1. Provision from Creation. The earliest humans were hunter-gatherers, and that is a valid means of God’s provision: it’s right there, we just need to grab hold of it. Esau is an example: where his brother tended sheep, Esau went out in the wild and hunted his provision. I rather think friendship is often this way: we don’t need to create friends, we just need to meet the people around us because there are friends there, waiting for discovery.
The essence of this means of provision is that it doesn’t require anyone else. I just go find what I need, and I take hold of it and it becomes my provision.
2. Paycheck for Work. Shortly after the first hunter-gatherers came back with fresh mastodon, someone else offered something of value for some of the meat, and the first paycheck was exchanged. A paycheck is essentially an exchange of my time (or the fruit of my time) for your provision, whether that provision is in the form of money or flint knives.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the elder brother saw himself in a paycheck relationship to his father: he put in his time, how come Dad didn’t come through with the fatted calf for him?
It’s easy to aspire to this in our relationship with God, particularly among evangelical and charismatic peoples: we see “full time ministry” as a goal, where we get to do spiritual related activity, and we get a paycheck. Personally, I think that sells ministry short.
3. The Community as Provision. As early man developed a culture, and insofar as our culture is actually healthy, the culture itself, the community to which we belong, becomes a means of God’s provision for us. Jesus relied on community provision in Luke 8:2&3; Paul teaches this in 2 Corinthians: in chapter 1, he talks about how our comfort is for the provision of comfort to others; in chapter 8, he broadens it to financial provision.
We see this in the contemporary church as well. Missionaries depend on the financial (and other) support of the community of faith in order to be able to preach the gospel in the foreign field; and the local church, in order to pay the staff and the mortgage, relies on the support, both in finances and in service, of the members.
I’ve seen many times where believers long for this kind of provision. “I need to be a full-time minister,” they say to themselves and others, as if this is somehow a more holy means of provision than earning a paycheck in a regular job, a value which (having had both) I wholly dispute.
4. Sowing and Reaping. Many people make their living by planting seed and harvesting the resulting crop. Interestingly, God has set up creation so that the laws of sowing and reaping work outside of the realm of agriculture where we most expect them. Paul teaches extensively about other application of these principles in 1 Corinthians 9 and Galatians 6, where the seed and the crop are sometimes financial, sometimes matters of character.
It appears that this was a common practice for Jesus and the Boys. John 13:29 implies that it was common for the group’s bookkeeper to practice giving to the poor.
And I see the principles of sowing and reaping in the story of the Widow of Zaraphath (1 Kings 17) and between Jacob and Laban, and in both places, invoking the practices of sowing and reaping. Interestingly, Jacob’s relationship with Laban started out as a wage-earner (Genesis 29:15), but when Laban wants to renew the contract, Jacob substitutes provision based on sowing and reaping (30:31 and following).
In the natural realm (dealing with seeds and dirt and grain), this means of provision probably belongs in #2 position, as it requires very little faith and not much more interaction with either man or God. But when we apply this as a spiritual principle to more areas of our life, then it has earned its #4 position.
5. Supernatural Provision. There are a number of times where God bypasses all of the “rules” and makes provision supernaturally. I love the fact that Jesus paid his taxes with a coin from a fish’s mouth (Matthew 17:27), and I love watching the supernatural provision for Elijah with the crows (1 Kings 17) and with Angel-food bread (1 Kings 19:5-7). Jesus used God’s supernatural provision when he multiplied fish and bread, and it seemed that this might have been (or could have been) a common practice (Mark 8:16-21).
I had an odd experience some years back. My wife & I were heading out for seven weeks of evangelistic missions in the far east (mostly in the Philippines, plus 2 weeks in Hong Kong and an overnight trip smuggling bibles into China). For various reasons, the financial reserve we had built up vanished in the last few days before we flew out, so when we landed in Manila, we had $14 for the two of us for fifty days in Asia.
It was then that I may have done something stupid; it was certainly educational: I prayed an odd prayer. I told God, "I know you're going to provide for us. But because I want to learn more of your ways, would you please provide for us without people giving us money?" In the culture of the group we were traveling with, generosity was a commonplace thing: people gave each other money as someone had a need, so it would be something of a miracle if that did not happen.
And it didn't. Nobody gave us a dime.
More interesting was the fact that we were never without. We didn't have much, of course. The most powerful lesson came when I woke up one morning wanting pizza, so I asked God for pizza, but I didn't ask anybody else. And that day, God gave us pizza. Without money. my bride was with a group of women and one of them declared, "Who wants pizza? I'm buying!" And a single mom bought a pizza for her kids, but they weren't hungy. The single men's dorm was empty, and so she brought it to me.
It was Philippine pizza, and only Shakey's at that. They don't even understand what cheese is over there. The month before, I would have turned my nose up at it. But that day, it was the best pizza in the world. I learned a world full of lessons about God's provision in that day and on that trip. On that trip, God and I conspired to move our provision from #3 (the community as provision) above to #5 (supernatural provision).
(That weekend, I discretely told God that I thought I'd learned the lesson, and I released Him to provide for us any way He wanted: with money or without. True to form, by noon, three people had handed us cash gifts.)
I’m guessing I’ll come back to visit these principles at another time. For now, I’m going to close with two observations: First, the earlier means of provision require less faith; the latter means require substantially greater faith. And second, I believe, from the example of Jacob &  Laban if naught else, that we have some say in the means by which God provides for us, just as my bride & I did in the Philippines.
So. How do you want your provision?

Stages of Spiritual Development

There’s this interesting passage in 1 John 2:12-14

12 I write to you, little children,

Because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake.

13 I write to you, fathers,

Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.

I write to you, young men,

Because you have overcome the wicked one.

I write to you, little children,

Because you have known the Father.

14 I have written to you, fathers,

Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.

I have written to you, young men,

Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you,

And you have overcome the wicked one.

Since I’ve been obsessing with the thought of believers growing up, this seemed appropriate to discuss.

In the English translations of this passage, there are three stages of development, each is repeated twice:

1. Children

2. Young Men

3. Fathers.

In the original Greek language, “young men” twice is a translation of neaniskos, which is literally, a young man, a man under 40 years of age. Both times, “fathers” is a translation of pater which is not a giant intellectual leap.

But John uses two different words for "children." The first time, he uses the Greek word teknion, which means “children”, but is only used figuratively in the New Testament: it’s a term of affection by a teacher to his disciples connoting tenderness. The second time, he uses the word paidon, an infant freshly born.

Distinguishing those two, we show four stages of development. But since John is a father of the faith, since he is writing to his spiritual children, then his stages of development are stages of spiritual development:

1. fresh newborns, characterized by knowing God as Father.

2. young children, disciples, characterized by the revelation of forgiveness, and that forgiveness is for “His name's sake.”

3. young men, both times described as “have overcome the wicked one,” and the second time adds “you are strong, and the word of God abides in you.” In other words, the young men (who may or may not actually be “men”) are the warriors (they overcome the wicked one) and they’re strong (“you are strong”) because the word of God of God abides (dwells, lives) in them.

4. fathers, both times described as “you have known Him who is from the beginning.” Fathers, of course, are people who are raising the next generation, in this time, the next generation of the church. But John describes them not in terms of their actions, but as he does the other stages: by how they know God. The fathers have a knowledge of God as the eternal one, the deepest, most experienced knowledge of Him.

When I teach this to young believers, I always follow it up with two questions, which I present for your consideration:

1) Looking at the descriptions, who are you? Which group do you fit in? What is your stage of spiritual development?

2) Looking at the descriptions of that group, what is the thing you should be working on now? How do you need to know God in this stage of spiritual growth? How well do you know him in that way? Then stop worrying about not living up to the other stages if they’re not where God has you right now!!

There’s a Goal to the Process.

There’s a lot said, and it’s generally right, about our life in Christ being a process as much as it is a goal: that we need to walk in relationship along the way, that we need to “stop and smell the flowers.”

Like so many things in the Kingdom of God, we have a paradox here. Yes, our walk of faith is a process; there is tremendous value in the steps along the way: the relationships with each other and with the Lord, the lessons learned in trials and victories, they joy of worship and of being part of the move of God in a region or in an individual: these are priceless treasures, and clear indications of the value of the journey, apart from the goal at the end. In no way do I intend to devalue that truth in what I am about to say.

But ultimately, we really are working towards a goal. There will come an end to the process – regardless of how valuable that process has been – and our effectiveness at accomplishing the goal will be measured. The goal can be quoted a number of different ways:

Make disciples. (Matthew 28:19)

Produce fruit of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:23)

Preach the gospel (Mark 16:15)

Be witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)

Bring forgiveness to the world (John 20:21-23)

Ultimately, they can all be summarized by a passage in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. It is our job to make this happen:

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

Some whom I trust would argue that this is not our task to do, but this is our prayer to pray; to them I would answer: do you not expect your prayers to be answered? If you are praying for the expansion of the Kingdom of God on earth, then we should see that the Kingdom expanded on your watch, in your area of influence.

Others would argue that this responsibility is ours not just to pray about, but to work towards as well, but the same standards apply if they’re right: we should see that the Kingdom expanded on your watch, in your area of influence.

My point is this: There will come a day when we will stand before our Heavenly King, and He will judge us. This is not about heaven or hell: we who believe in Christ will miss that judgment, but the fruit of our labor will still be evaluated: there will be rewards based on how well have we done at the assignment He has given us? I think there’s great liberty as far as how we accomplish the goal or how we measure the goal, but the reality is that there must be something accomplished as a result of the investment of grace in our lives.

I have the privilege (and I consider it a privilege, an honor) of talking with thousands of people from thousands of churches. One of the things that I hear as I talk with them is the value for the weekly events of the church. I hear the value of “business as usual.”

It seems that there are an awful lot of local congregations that have the “church as a process” value down well: they gather Sunday mornings, talk over coffee afterwards. Midweek, they have the same event that they did last year. Their Easter and Christmas are a little different this year than last, but functionally, they do the same thing week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade.

Please don’t get me wrong. This is not the waste of time and energy that some of the more radical voices among us might imply. These congregations are doing a good job of “shepherding the flock of God” which is not, as the evangelists among us might imply, ignoring the command of God. They are very effective at the “process” part of the paradox.

But many churches, perhaps tens of thousands of them, are succeeding at the process but are not succeeding at the goal. They’re enjoying the fellowship at this week’s coffee hour and this month’s potluck supper, but the kingdom of God is not expanding in their area of responsibility.

Sure, a few more people are attending the church this year, but their community is not more representative of the Kingdom of God this year than it was last year; there are not increasing numbers of people pressing back darkness or similar numbers pressing darkness back more effectively; the dead are not raised, the sick are not healed, and nobody is grieving about it because the fellowship is good, the mortgage on the building is paid, and we’re enjoying the journey.

I’m thankful that we the church have finally begun to learn about the process of the Christian life. Now I’m praying that we’d reach the prize effectively as well.

Let’s go change the world; let's really change it!

Ministry Flows Through Relationships.

Some time ago, I had this image of a network of islands in a vast sea, connected by a variety of bridges. The islands are people, and the bridges are the relationships. Some of the islands have many bridges, some just a few, and a few islands have no bridges at all. And the bridges are of all varieties. There are some rickety footbridges, some rope bridges or narrow wooden bridges. Some are just a fallen log. Others are well-made stone bridges, and there are a few modern steel or concrete bridges.

“No man is an island,” or so John Donne says. Nobody is completely self-sufficient. I may produce quite a lot of what I need on my island, but there are some things that I’ll need from others. Besides, if I get by with only what I can make myself, then I subject myself to a very primitive lifestyle: no cars, no cell-phones, no laptops or toilet paper: none of these can be produced without heavy industry.

If I want coffee, I can trade some of the things I make on my island (let’s imagine I’m a carpenter) with someone else for their coffee, but only if I have a bridge. But not just any bridge. I need to have a bridge that I can carry my wood furniture over: the rope bridge won’t do. In fact, the fallen log is out, and many of the narrow wooden bridges. The guy with the coffee can make use of most of the bridges, but my work requires a bigger bridge. The stonemason on the next island over needs really strong bridges.

I heard Rick Joyner say one time that when God sends him somewhere to minister, he’s always interested to see how they receive him. If they recognize him as a pastor or ministry leader, then there’s a certain amount of ministry he can bring. If they receive him as an author and a teacher, then there’s more he can bring. If they can accept him as a prophet, still more, and if they welcome him as an apostle, then he can bring the entire arsenal for them.

Rick is looking to see what kind of bridge exists between himself and the people he’s ministering to. If it’s a smaller bridge, built with less trust or less understanding of the things of God, then he’s able to bring less ministry over the bridge, perhaps just the ministry of a pastor. After a number of visits, perhaps the bridge is strong enough to support apostolic ministry.

If I don’t have any relationship with you at all, then it will be very difficult for me to minister to you, to strengthen you, encourage you, to equip you for the assignments that God has given you. Likewise, it’s nearly impossible for me to receive any strength or encouragement from you. There are people I know professionally; most of them don’t have a bridge with me that would support a prophetic word or a revelation from scripture.

When I speak with a group of people, the first thing on my agenda is to build relationship with them. I only have a few minutes with them, maybe an hour, so we have to work fast; I do that work with jokes, stories, illustrations. Fortunately, I have a teaching gift from God and the Holy Spirit loves to inhabit them: He makes the job much easier and faster, but it still takes time, and if I hope to carry something of value to them, I must have a bridge to do it!

Even Jesus saved his heavy revelation for the Last Supper, after Judas had left to collect his 30 pieces of silver. Only there among his eleven most trusted friends did he share his most significant secrets. Those were the only relationships that were able to bear it.

For a more scriptural example, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 3: It’s my opinion that this is essentially what Paul is saying: “Your end of the bridge isn’t substantial enough for this ministry.” They were acting like “mere men” which prevented him from teaching them weightier subjects. Same with Hebrews 5. The seven sons of Sceva may be an example of the bridge of relationship breaking because they tried to carry too much weight over it, but Stephen certainly is such an example.

Recently, I needed to bring a very strong word of correction to a brother in Christ. I actually had the word two years earlier, but the word was heavy enough that our relationship couldn’t support it. We built a relationship over those years, and eventually he invited me to speak into his life on that subject, and when I did, our relationship supported the weight of the word: he made the needed changes in his life (it took a few years), and we’re still friends. Now we both speak into each others’ lives.

Now the question is whether you and I have enough of a relationship to support this much meat? It’s not really a lot of weight, but then, we don’t have a lot of experience relating to each other either.





Sunday

Are Christians Lazy?

I was walking along the lake this morning, praying. (Trust me, 6:30 AM in February qualifies as “the cool of the day!”) As we walked, he brought back to my mind a hope, a dream really, regarding ministry that He and I had talked about decades ago. I realized that I’ve seen nothing come of it.
I need to explain something before I go too much further here. I’m a direct communicator. God knows this and seems to not be offended by it. He sometimes speaks directly with me; it works for us.
So I’m reflecting on this ministry dream, and it crosses my mind that it hasn’t come to pass; in fact, I’ve known several folks with similar dream, and theirs hasn’t come about yet either. Hmmm. Oh look, it’s beginning to snow.
And the voice of the Holy Spirit whispers in the back of my thoughts: “That’s because my people are lazy.”
Whoa. Suddenly He had my attention, and he unfolded a series of thoughts in my mind, like a slideshow; no, more like an MTV video clip: fast, active, and full of energy. I feel the need to share some of those thoughts.
In many ways, the work of the Western Church has been functionally indistinguishable from the work of the secular world in which we live. Not completely, of course, but in some critical ways. We’ve often governed our congregations by political process (show me one place in the Word where the people voted; there is one, but it’s not our model). We’ve accomplished what we considered the work of the Kingdom, but we’ve been directed by our own goals and we reached them by our own strength.
There’s been a growing movement in the church that has rejected the concept of using the arm of the flesh to accomplish the work of the Spirit, and encouraged a more Spirit-led model of ministry. For example, we don’t often see Jesus setting goals and forming committees; rather, we hear Him talk about doing and speaking only “what He sees the Father doing,” and we see the supernatural results that He had, and we want to be like Him!
Then we read the story of Mary and Martha, and we hear Jesus rebuke Martha and affirm Mary, and we think, “Well, I should sit at His feet, not run around working hard, or He’ll rebuke me too.”
Unfortunately, what worked for Him turns into religion and passivity in us. We become religious because we forsake our vision for the marketplace for “more spiritual” vision. We become passive when we look at Jesus’ statements as if He sits around waiting for God to give Him direction.
A verse that has driven us is poorly translated Isaiah 40:31: But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. We see “wait” and we think about sitting in the lobby of the doctor’s office reading antiquated news-magazines, and that’s made us lazy. The Hebrew word actually means “to wait or to look for with eager expectation,” and is the root word for the making rope: becoming intertwined. When Jesus “waited”, He did it early in the morning or late at night: He worked hard to wait, to intertwine Himself with Father. Maybe that’s the reason that we don’t accomplish as much as He: we don’t work as hard at waiting.
I’ve encountered an attitude that appears to be uncomfortably commonplace among believers, particularly among believers who believe in and like to associate with the power of God. We wouldn’t put it this way, but it’s accurate: we kind of wait for God to hand us our dreams on a silver platter.
There’s a reason that Bill Gates or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are as successful as they are, despite the fact that they don’t (as far as anyone knows) spend much time waiting on God: they work hard.
We as believers should work as hard as unbelievers work, though certainly we don’t worship market dominance, wealth, or power as they do. Jesus didn’t rebuke Martha for working; He rebuked Martha for dismissing Mary’s choice as insignificant, or for working without having spent time sitting at His feet first. He never said, “Be more like Mary,” perhaps because if we all did nothing more than sit at Jesus’ feet, nothing would get done. I rather suspect that the goal is to be like both Martha and Mary. As Mike Bickle says, “Lovers make better workers.”
I hear people complain that if they take the time to be with God, time to be with their family, time for church, then the won’t have time to do the work of the kingdom. First, I suspect that’s more of an excuse than a reality, at least in the lives of some who have made that complaint to me. And second, I’ve become willing to suggest that we seriously cut back on the number of services we attend in order to spend more time with God, with family, and in the work of the kingdom.
So, to answer the question that I posed in the title of this posting, yes, I think Christians (including myself) are lazy, and we’re lazy because we have been poorly instructed. When we learn who we are in Christ, when we learn that it is our work to reign with Him, when we figure out that “waiting” has more to do with warfare than it does with killing time, then I think we’ll find our dreams come to pass, our promises fulfilled, and His kingdom come.

Tuesday

Go! Preach! Heal!

I’ve been studying the Bible for many years, and I’ve come to a conclusion: Jesus is a pretty good role model. For example, I’ve been watching Him in His ministry, and listening (so to speak) as He instructs His followers, and I’m thinking, “Hey, I’m a follower. Maybe I’d better pay attention!”
 
For instance, at the end of Matthew 9 we have a description of how Jesus did ministry, and if I want to be like Him, then I ought to do ministry the same way. And then in the beginning of Matthew 10, He instructs the Boys (aka “the apostles”) on how to do ministry. I’m thankful that He’s not a hypocrite: He teaches them to do the same things that He did. And when you boil it all down, it’s actually not real complicated.
 
Matthew 9:35: Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.
 
So the essence of Jesus’ ministry was pretty simple: Go, Preach, Heal.
 
Matthew 10:6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' 8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.
 
And His instructions to the Boys were pretty much the same: Go, Preach, Heal. He added some details about what to preach (“The kingdom is at hand”) and how to heal (cleanse lepers, raise the dead, etc…).
 
Even the Great Commission focuses on the same things.
 
Mark 16:15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
 
All of my responsibilities as a Christian fall into two camps: who I am and what I do. And in the “what I do” category, I have only three things: go, preach, heal.
 
I look at that list, and it scares me. I think: “Go. I can do that. Preach. I can do that.” And then I come to the last one: “Heal. I can’t do that.”
 
That’s wrong on a couple of levels. First it betrays a fundamental heresy in my understanding of the gospel: the gospel requires the supernatural. The presentation of the gospel that Jesus understood involves signs and wonders. It involves people throwing down their crutches, and dead guys climbing out of their coffins and surgeons looking at x-rays and scratching their heads and demons being chased out of people. That’s part of the gospel!
 
I’m thinking that a five minute presentation of “the Four Laws” is insufficient. That’s what brought most of my generation to Christ (maybe that’s our problem!).Someone who knows about these things pointed out to me that pretty much every time in the gospels that we see Jesus teaching or preaching, we probably see him healing the sick as well: a powerless gospel is not the gospel!
 
But that leads me to my second problem: I don’t do so good at healing people. I can’t really do that. And for long seasons of my life, I gave up trying. This is where my second major error happens. Sure, I can’t heal people without divine assistance. But what on earth makes me think I can do the rest of it on my own?
 
The whole gospel is – at its core – supernatural. It involves at the very least a transformation from death to life, and if you believe the Bible, then there’s a party in heaven when that happens, because something supernatural happened! So what makes me think I can preach without His divine impartation on me? What makes me think I can even go as a representative of Heaven except that He commissions me, He sends me, He goes with me? This is not a place where a “Please bless my words” prayer will work. I need power as desperately in my going and in my preaching as I do in my healing the sick and raising the dead.
 
And just because I can’t do it is no excuse. I still need to heal the sick and raise the dead.
 
So ultimately, my problem is that I don’t believe the Bible: I haven’t recognized the necessity of the supernatural, so I’ve left the healing part out, and then I’ve tried to do the rest of it pretty much on my own.
 
I think I have a lot to learn!
 
Go! Preach! Heal!
 

 


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.

Sunday

The Work of Giving Birth

There are a lot of promises in the Kingdom that still need to be birthed.

Just sitting and waiting for them isn’t enough to make them come. I can sit and wait forever, and some things just won’t come to pass.

Maybe you know that you’re going to have children, you’re going to be a parent someday. That’s not enough to make it happen. Knowing something will happen does not make it happen.

If you want to give birth, first you need to become intimate. I understand that you can’t get pregnant without getting intimate: just doesn’t happen that way. You will be a parent of that child; the one you become intimate with is the other parent. That’s just the way it is: no intimacy – no pregnancy. No love – no sons and daughters.

Then you need to make preparations in your life for the change that’s not yet come: pregnant women live somewhat as if they already have a baby: they decorate the room, buy furniture and clothes and those silly little dangly toys that hang over the crib. They have baby-parties (which they call “showers”) and they celebrate the child that is coming. Some activities need to be given up altogether: if she doesn’t stop bungee jumping or scuba diving, she may unintentionally kill her child.

Obstetricians don’t need to advertise their services. It seems that expectant women possess an almost a genetic urge to place themselves in the hands of a medical doctor: “What do I do? How do I get ready? How do I protect this little one inside?” They take large pills and vitamins specifically designed for expectant mothers.

Being pregnant appears to be terribly uncomfortable; it’s awkward, inconvenient. Her body changes and things work completely differently. The digestive system changes; the bowels stop working right, the bladder shrinks to a fraction of its former size. Various portions of anatomy change size or dimension. Her chemistry changes and therefore moods change. She want to eat pickles. Right now. It’s really weird living with a pregnant woman!

Everybody can see that she’s pregnant: her belly eventually precedes her wherever she goes, and her gait is unique to the pregnant. Other women get weird around pregnant ladies, and it seems impossible to speak to them without rubbing their tummy.

Eventually it comes time for the child to be born, but even that requires pretty aggressive, assertive action. The doctor commands, “PUSH!” and she pours every fiber of her being into pushing, even though the urge to push was incomprehensible until the transition is upon her. But when that time comes, her whole person is focused on the birthing of the baby. If she cannot or will not push, the child is not born correctly, and the insurance company is displeased because the alternative is expensive.

We have some promises that we’re looking forward to. Like children. But having the promise isn’t enough. Having a prophetic word isn’t enough. The prophetic word gives us a target to aim for, it promises that if we work that direction we will be successful, but most of the time (there are exceptions), the prophetic declaration does not make the thing happen. That part is up to us.

If we want to give birth to the promise, first we must get intimate with the one who can inseminate us with promise. We must come to His private chambers and uncover ourselves. We must draw near with love and let Him plant the dream in our uncovered heart.

Then we need to make preparations in our lives for the changes that are not there yet: we must live in some measure as if the thing which was promised was already here. We need to make room for it. Has God promised you a teaching ministry? Then you’d better spend hours in the Word. Has God promised you riches? Then you must learn responsibility and restraint. Has God promised you a mate? Then you must make room in your house, your budget, your personality for him or her. There are some activities and more attitudes that must be eliminated altogether; if we don’t, we may unintentionally kill the promise.

Being pregnant with promise is as terribly uncomfortable, awkward, inconvenient as physical pregnancy. Things work completely differently. You’re in the “Now but not yet” place that makes no sense. My relationship with God is different: He sees the promise fulfilled yet, even though I can’t see that fulfillment to save my life.

My relationship with my church family is different: some of them can see the bulging promise, and some cannot. We can’t see the promises ourselves sometimes. Those that can see it can’t help but speak to it, rubbing our belly as it were; those that can’t see it don’t understand why we’re acting the way we are; they complain and whine about the changes we are making in favor of the promise.

Eventually it comes time for the promise to be born, but even then, aggressive faith is required. There’s a “push” that is needed, and often, we don’t understand it until it’s time. But if we don’t push, the promise may be stillborn.

Babies and promises are alike in that they don’t happen without a whole lot of participation on our part.

There are many among us that are pregnant with promise in these days. Some are aware, are under the care of a “doctor” in the form of a mentor, and as a result, many are moving well towards their goals and dreams. Others have no doctor caring for them, but the Father of their pregnancy is counseling them wisely, and their birth is approaching well; there are no complications.

Yet there are some who sit around watching TV and wonder at what’s happening to them. Some keep bungee-jumping or deep-sea diving, and reject the counsel of those older and wiser around them, and they wonder that the birth of their dreams is not proceeding well. They make no room in their lives for the promise, and they wonder that the promise does not come in the way they expect it, in the time they expect.

Do you have a promise that has not been fulfilled? Have you submitted yourself to the care of a mentor, to the care of the Father, or are you still living as you did before you received the promise? Are you making room for the promise, making preparations to birth?