Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How long?: Curing the Spiritual Blues and Blahs

This question comes off of my lips too quickly, "How long do I have to go through this discomfort?" It is a bit like spiritual whining! The psalmist takes up the cry in Psalm 13:

"How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long will I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart
all the day?

How long will my enemy be exalted over me?"

There is trouble anytime we think that the only counsel that we can find is in our own soul! (v.2)And in case we try to get out of this spiritual funk, there is the enemy "rejoicing when I am shaken". (v.4) Talk about insult to injury! The psalmist realizes that his only hope lies with God. Only He can cure my misery and depression! So the psalmist concludes:
"I have trusted in Your longkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me."

He either a) anticipates the rescue of God is at hand or b) realizes that the misery will last but a moment in comparison to the joy of an eternity with God. Either way, the antidote is a focus on the character and activity of God. He is able to deliver me!
  1. What are you going through today? Does it seem overwhelming? Has it been going on for some time now, with no hope of rescue in sight?
  2. Have you cried out to God or to your friends? Have you slumped into the "slough of despond" and given up ever getting out?
  3. Have you sought to remember God's goodness to you in the past and his promises of future resurrection and salvation? Have you worshipped God in the depths of the dungeon at midnight? (see Acts 16 for this story!)
  4. Have you chosen to forget about your struggles (drop them) in exchange for remembering God's hand of bounty (pick them up)?

God will make a way where there seems to be no way,

Some Good Antidote to Leadership Idolatry

Jesus was speaking to a crowd, teaching them about the power by which he was doing exorcisms. He clarified the danger involved when a man is set free from a demon but leaves the front door open for further, even worse possession. Wow! Amazing stuff of angelology/demonology! What a great authoritative teacher.

As I read this episode in the life of Jesus, I am thinking, "You are amazing Jesus" will be the next words spoken about Him. Instead, Luke records the voice of a woman from the crowd.

"Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed."

What?!! Where did that come from? I wrestled with the thoughts that maybe this was supposed to be a prop to his mom. We would say, "Your momma must be so proud of you". A woman would have insight into that proud feeling that a mom gets from seeing her son fulfill his life calling. There is a satisfaction that comes with his success. But then I wondered, is the enemy using this woman and her sentiments to draw attention away from the topic at hand -- Jesus' power over demons. That would be just like the enemy to twist a well-intentioned thought to fit his own agenda. This could be a well disguised demonic attack.

Jesus quickly puts his own spin on the statement to make sure that the crowd understands what is more important here. He crushes the enemy's attack by refocusing on the real blessings -- obedience to the Word of God. In his response he moves away from the womb that bore him (Mary's) and to the spiritual rebirth that occurs as a man or woman hears the good news and recieves the gift of new life. Nicodemus understood that analogy after his conversation one noght with Jesus! Jesus's response moved away from the breasts that nursed him to the milk of the Word that nurses the new spiritual infant and helps him to change and grow. Paul understood that analogy and rebuked the Corinthians for staying in the nursery. In Jesus' way of thinking, the true blessing was spiritual, not physical.

(Please note: I do not believe that Jesus' disliked his mother, Mary. He was simply drawing this well-intentioned woman to the real meat of the conversation -- it's all about the real, personal, life-changing God!)

We need to be careful to do as the Master did in this scenario. When we finish the sermon that moves people to conviction and confession. We may be greeted with "Great sermon, pastor" or "You are a gifted communicator". Warning! This is distraction warfare! The enemy wants to focus the attention on the messenger or the servant, not the message or the Master! Revering Mary because of her service to God is the beginning of idolatry. Focusing all of our attention on the leader is idolatry. That kinid of misdirected praise is what started the factions in Corinth! Our focus must be on the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit; their work and their power make the service powerful and effective.

Refocus people's attention away from you and on to the Lord. Make sure that we ask "What have you heard? What will you be observing as a result of this message?" so that we can be blessed to be a blessing. God never intended to focus everyone's attention on Mary, she was simply the "handmaiden of the Lord". God never intends to focus everyone's attention on me, I am simply the undershepherd. When I lead by hearing and doing the Word of God, I am establishing the proper focus for blessing and growth.

Keep me humbly serving you with power,

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Community of Disciples

As I may have mentioned to some of you, I have been working through the book of Luke this summer. It has been very refreshing to wander slowly and thoughtfully through some of those familiar passages. The gospels are some of my favorite spots to think Biblically about ministry. I really do want to do ministry the way that Jesus did.

As I thought through Luke 11:1-4, I wondered if this passage that we have been so familiar with (the Lord's Prayer) held another message about discipleship. Here are some things that I have been thinking about in regard to the community of disciples called the church, specifically at Wyoming.
  1. A community of disciples has a praying leader (11:1); Jesus was praying ( I assume that he prayed for the disciples and their ministry, for his own strength to lead and minister, the decisions involving the next steps for his ministry) and they notice the difference.
  2. A community of disciples has a hungry spirit to learn (11:1); the disciples weren't content to have the leader minister or to hear about others growing around them, they wanted to know growth first hand
  3. A community of disciples are kingdom thinkers (11:2); the prayer that Jesus suggested to the disciples was one that included a "seek ye first the kingdom" attitude. Disciples are people who pray for the kingdom to come, to build, to blossom in and around their corner.
  4. A community of disciples are content to allow for God's daily sustaining blessing for their ministry (11:3); they do not try to work it out themselves, co-erce others to give, manipulate the circumstances for God.
  5. A community of disciples practice forgiveness as a way of life (11:4); you will know when you walk in whether this is true or not! They practice the art of forgiving because they remember how great it is to be forgiven! They do not love forgiveness enough to keep on sinning that grace may abound.

What would happen if these were all true of our ministry at Wyoming? What if we could be known as a community of disciples like the first century church? What if we would set this prayer as more than a liturgical form at the front of our philosophy and praxis for church ministry? What if.... what if.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Praising Power

Do you remember your reaction when "The Dominator" blew an engine pulling to the finish line in last weekend's tractor pull? While I admit this is definitely a Western NY summer reference, there is a certain element that I believe you can appreciate wherever you live. We love power! Especially raw, unbridled, explosive power! We are men! (insert appropriate Tim Allen-style grunting/growling here) We love "Binford Power Tools", we love stock car racing, we love tractor pulls, we love bone-jarring football; we love power.

As I read Luke 10:17-24 this morning I realized that the seventy that were sent out by Jesus came back to the debriefing circle excited. They had just seen raw power -- the kind that made demons fall flat on their backsides! Jesus was excited with them, for their ministry efforts had toppled even Satan himself! But Jesus' warning in v. 20 was what captured my attention.

"Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven."
The temptation was to say "WOW! lookie, lookie what I did! I am an amazing servant of God!" Jesus was suggesting that the word order was important. The word order should have been "WOW! lookie, lookie what God did! I serve an amazing God!" He said that first of all the biggest activity of power was the rescue of sinners, not casting down of demons. He said that the salvation of the servants, not the subjection of the enemies was the best cause for spiritual partying.

Then Jesus did a very important activity -- He led them in Spirit-ual worship. He was demonstrating to the seventy disciples that the power for ministry comes from a person (the Father) by His intentional ministry of revelation to the ministers first. Jesus, being in tune with the Spirit, started a praise session at the debrief time. I have seen this happen first hand a number of times -- it is awesome! But I dare not praise the power of praise/worship, as great as it is, for it is small in comparison with the fact that I can praise a personally known God at all!

May I suggest a few things that we need to do in light of this passage?:

  1. Tap into the power that God has to do the best ministry; "so, forget about yourself and concentrate on him, then worship him"
  2. Remember to include a time of debriefing after ministry and lead it into praise and prayer time celebrating a great God of power, not the power of our great God
  3. Thank God every day for the revelations that He brings to you through His Word and His people; keep living, serving, being by that kind of power

Power-up by the All Powerful One's power for ministry of the gospel,