If My People…

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14

Heavenly Father, my heart is breaking for this country. Our nation has become a people who have embraced the rewards of wealth over the rewards of righteousness. We have elevated choice above truth and have found an infinite number of creative and clever ways to repeat the sin of pride so that we might justify our pleasures and redefine evil as good and good as evil.

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#Purpose

“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.”

Psalm 138:8

“The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.”
Say it with me.

“The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.”

Don’t read it silently. Speak it aloud. Confidently.

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The Emergent Change

 My soul longs for your salvation;
    I hope in your word.
My eyes long for your promise;
    I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
    yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
How long must your servant endure?[a]
    When will you judge those who persecute me?
The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
    they do not live according to your law.
All your commandments are sure;
    they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
They have almost made an end of me on earth,
    but I have not forsaken your precepts.
In your steadfast love give me life,
    that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.

Psalm 119:81-88

When suffering comes it is easy to lose sight of God. His timing often seems slow and His promises (though they are surely coming) seem far off. Meanwhile, our enemies continue to barrage us with blow after blow, making us cry out to God, “How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me?”

It is in those darkest times that we forget that God is not only in the business of saving. He is also in the business of sanctifying. He does not just write the ending, changing us from unholy to holy. He also develops us into the heroes and heroines He wants us to be. Most people only focus on the last two or three dominos that fall at the end of a story so that they can understand if the story’s main conflict is decided for or against the protagonist. But God does not want to only create the three final causal changes within us. He desires to create systemic, or emergent, changes within us as well.

In His sovereignty, God orchestrates our life story so that a chain reaction of events, choices, and circumstances push us out of our normal world and into an adventure that contrasts God’s principles, promises, and precepts against the razor edges of life. This creates an emergent change within the whole system of ourselves. It does not change only one part of us. It changes multiple parts simultaneously until we reach a climactic moment where the deepest questions about ourselves are answered within the character of God:

Am I lovable, despite my trauma?

Can I let go of that addiction to porn?

Can I overcome my pride and be selfless?

Can I ignore those temptations at work and be faithful to my spouse? And if not, can I work diligently to restore my marriage?

In other words, it is not enough for God to just open the Red Sea and save us. To become His holy people we must walk through the wilderness too.

So, we keep moving forward.

Not because our willpower is stronger nor because our wisdom is brighter nor even because our therapy is better. Rather, we continue pressing onward because the God-ordained result of all our struggles is that “when he appears we shall be like him.” (1 John 3:2). This is the promise that we have been given and that God will see to the end: That “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Php. 1:6) This is the emergent result of all of our experiences, all of our choices, and all of God’s sovereign will being exercised throughout our lives. Until then, even in the darkest moments of life, we continue to pray, “In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.”

The Interplay of Two Wills

Put false ways far from me

    and graciously teach me your law!

Psalm 119:29

Here is an interesting interplay between God’s sovereign will and man’s choice.

First, we see that David understands that without God he will always walk in false ways. His heart is desperately sick and deceitful above all things and though his ways may appear right to him, without God’s intervention the end of all his choices is the way of death. (Jer. 17:9; Pr. 14:12). Therefore, he begs God to act against the natural inclination of his will and put false ways “far from him.”

This is not something he could do on his own. He needs a new nature from God (2 Cor. 5:17) and a new law to follow, one that is not bound to sin and death (Rom. 8:2). Thus, he entreats the Lord to “graciously teach me your law!” David wants freedom from his wicked self and knows his only help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Ps. 121:2).

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Rewriting Rote Prayers

Rote prayers. We all have them. Sometimes they are the perfunctory words we use before eating a meal:

“Dear God, thank you for this food we are about to eat, and thank you for all that you have given to us. Help to go through each day knowing and doing your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Sometimes they are a meaningless combination of words or phrases that provide neither clarity nor intimacy in our communion with God:

“Lord, lead, guide, and direct us.” (if God is leading us, He is guiding us. If He is guiding us, He is directing us. Why do we need all three words, when one will do?)

And sometimes our rote prayers have emptied themselves of both potency and urgency due to years of repetition and an undercurrent of hopelessness.

“Save my friend.”

“Heal my child.”

“Bring us revival in this land.”

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The Futility of Fairness

unjust-enrichment“This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead…Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.”

— Ecclesiastes 9:3,11 ESV

 

In these verses, Solomon is not accusing God of being evil. Rather, he is saying that the fairness we are all subjected to in this life is evil. That it doesn’t matter if one is righteous or unrighteous death, time, and chance “happen to them all.” Instinctively, our conscience screams, “That’s not fair!” and demands a just order to the world. But fairness is an evil consequence of the Fall. God wants us to live in a just world. It was this way in the beginning, and it will be this way again in the end. He will re-establish the correct order of creation one day where justice, not fairness, rules; where the same event does not happen to all. The unrighteous will be punished, and the righteous will be rewarded.

This is why, in His wisdom, God gave us the law: to provide a standard for just living, and to give a foretaste of what life within a just world could be like (if everyone obeyed). But sin takes the opportunity to arise in our hearts once the Law is given (Rom 7:8). To establish a just world, He can not only teach us and leave us to our own free will. He must also redeem us from the madness that is in our hearts by giving His life in place of ours. Therefore, first God establishes the standard of justice, then He exercises through Christ the first perfectly just act by any human being. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21).

Christ’s perfect obedience secures the promise that one day we will escape life in this fair world, where “the same event happens to all,” and enter into life within a just world. Here, the unrighteous will receive their punishment but the man no longer tainted with sin will discover that God will withhold no good thing from him (Ps. 84:11). In this just world, every good thing is an expression of God’s self and results in the righteous man’s exultation in the unblemished, holy character of God. It is a self-reinforcing, self-sustaining relationship dynamic wherein God continuously blesses, and man continuously rejoices. For man’s joy will no longer be in the gifts that he receives but in the goodness, and the justice, of the God who gives.

Increasing the Faith of Others

sucess1

“But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ.15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. 17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (2 Cor. 10:13-18)

A few weeks ago we looked at this same verse and examined what it meant to be “assigned an area of influence by God.” (v.13) We looked at how each of us has an area of influence, and how our job is to help increase the faith of those we influence.

But what does it mean to “increase someone’s faith?” How do we know what we’re looking for in the lives of those whom we disciple?

Fortunately, Paul answered this question for us in his letter to the Ephesians. In the third chapter of that letter he says that he prays for the following characteristics to manifest themselves in the lives of his disciples (see bold/underlined below, enumerations are mine):

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you 1)to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being 2)rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have 3)strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be 4)filled with all the fullness of God.

But Paul does not leave it at that. He does not just pray for the people he disciples and leave the rest to God. He realizes that there is a responsibility that one has towards those he disciples in order to increase their faith. Therefore, he spends the entire chapter outlining for us how he, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, went about this task. The prayer quoted above is only a piece of what he did. But as you can see in the table below, the discipler increases his disciples’ faith through much, much more than merely bowing before God for the people in his area of influence. He takes an active role in their faith journey, both when he is with them and when he is away.

Here is an outline of chapter 3 to help us understand how to apply these same efforts for the people we influence.

Verse

Responsibility

v.1 – For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles Know that when you invest your life in increasing the faith of others, your sufferings will no longer be about you alone but will also be on behalf of those you are influencing. Therefore, you must remember your disciples, encouraging them and enduring your suffering on their behalf.

 

v. 2-3 – assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. You are to be a faithful/good steward of the grace of God. This means that you must not only correctly handle the word of truth but must also work to not defame God’s grace by your choices or lifestyle. Your example is a powerful, visible reminder to others of not only what you are teaching but also how it practically expresses itself and makes a difference in a person’s life. (2 Tim. 2:15)
v. 4-5 – When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. Let others perceive your insight into the mystery of Christ as you teach to them the truth.

 

Rely only on God for revelation into this mystery. Your talent or intellect or abilities are nothing when used in the service of yourself. But when you use them in the service of God, others can see Him and understand the truth as He defines it.

 

v. 7 – Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. Keep this idea foremost in your mind: you are a minister to this person/these people according to the gift of God’s grace and that this was given you by the working of His power. You did not conjure this up on your own. And you do not sustain it on your own. It is all of God, from God, and for God.

 

v. 8a – To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, Be humble — view yourself as the least of the saints.

 

v. 8b-10 – this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in[b] God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Focus your teachings on two overarching emphases: 1) the unsearchable riches of Christ and 2) to bring light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery of the ages. This will allow the church to be the vehicle through which the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Meaning, we are not only witnessing these truths to those whom we can see but also to those whom we cannot see)
v. 11-13 – This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. Receive the boldness you have in Christ and access Him with the confidence you have through faith in Him.

Exemplify this boldness in your own sufferings so those you are influencing can see how to not lose heart in trials and can learn from your example of how to stand firm (Eph. 6:10-20)

v. 14-17a – For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family[c] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith Pray diligently to God that He may strengthen your disciples with power through His Spirit in your inner being according to the riches of his glory SO THAT Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith.

 

v. 17b-19 –  that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Pray that they will be 1) rooted and grounded in love, 2) have strength to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of this love, and 3) to know that the love of Christ surpasses knowledge, i.e. that they may be filled with the fullness of God. Do not pray for only one of these characteristics. Pray for all of these things. For without all of them in your disciples, your disciples lack the fullness of God and will make poor ambassadors for Christ to the world and to those whom they eventually disciple as well.

 

v. 20-21 – Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Pray that God’s incomprehensible purposes will be accomplished according to the power at work within your disciples FOR THE GLORY OF GOD.

 

Pray that these things will occur both in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout ALL generations. Do not pray for these to occur in your disciples only. Have a long-term view in mind. Pray for the generations coming after them as well, for your area(s) of influence do not end at the people you know. They only begin there. There are myriads of people who will follow the example you established in your disciples. And they will pass this example onto other generations as well. Pray as broadly and boldly as you can, exploring the depth and breadth of all you can ask or imagine, but leave the work of accomplishing these prayers to the One who is able and can do far more, according to the power at work in us. May He receive the glory, not us, both in the church and in Christ throughout all generations, so that it may never be said: “They forgot the LORD their God.” (1 Sam. 12:9)

Now, go. Be His witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, making disciples of all nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [He has] commanded you.” And behold, He will be with you always, even to the end of the age. (Acts 1:8; Mt. 28:18-20)

Quick Thoughts: Randomness from a Morning in the Word

Ever had one of those days when you read the Bible and your meditations on the Word lead to random connections that you never saw before? I have had this occur so many times, I have come to realize that this experience transcends mere free association or brainstorming. It is the Holy Spirit revealing His ideas and truth to me in a way that helps me understand God, my relationship with Him, and His Word better.

Some days are, admittedly, ho-hum. But today is not one of those days.

Although it is only 8:30 a.m. at the time of this writing here is a journey through my mind this morning. Continue reading

The Unobserved Ministry

“But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ.15 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. 17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (2 Cor. 10:13-18)

Every one of us Christians is in ministry. Without exception. We may not all be formally ordained or have a huge following of some kind, but God does not define ministry in this way. First, He gives you Christ. Second, He assigns an area of influence to you, and third, He asks that you use your influence to increase the faith of those in your area so that your area of influence may grow and others’ faith may be increased as well. This is what Jesus meant when he talked about us going to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and even to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). We begin in one area of influence and as the faith of the people there increases, our area of influence is greatly enlarged “so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond [them].” (v. 16)

So, look around you. What are the areas of influence that God has assigned to you?

…Wait. You don’t have one?

Are you sure?

Do you have a family?

A job?

A blog?

A church?

A community?

How about a Facebook account?

Or a little league baseball team that you coach?

Maybe you have a business partner, a client list, or employees?

Perhaps your area of influence is a neighbor, a best friend, or the hobo you always see on the street corner.

The list could go on and on.

The point is: we are all in ministry. And the areas of influence that God has assigned to us are plural, not singular, in nature.

We are called to be a gospel people in each of these areas, teaching all that Christ commanded us so that the faith of others grows, our territory expands (1 Chron. 4:10) and we make disciples of all nations.

Such a perspective may be a different way of looking at your life and admittedly there are traps along the way. Therefore it is helpful to use the above passage as a helpful model in praying for your ministry, whatever your area(s) of influence may be.
1) Focus on the area of influence God has assigned to you

2) Ask that God will prevent you from overextending yourself or boasting as though you reached those you have not reached with the Gospel.

3) Ask that God will greatly enlarge the people’s faith so that your area of influence may also expand, so that you may be able to preach the gospel in other lands beyond the original people or group God assigned to you.

4) Pray that as you grow you will be humble, not taking credit for the work others have already done in those lands but boasting in only what the Lord does through you in those new places.

5) Earnestly pray that your only boast will be boasting in the Lord, both for the willing and the doing of the work.

6) Ask that you will not be approved because you commend yourself (i.e., clever marketing or prideful boasting in how you have used your talents) but because God commands you. Let the whole work, the spreading of the Gospel, the preaching, the expansion, and the approval be God-centric. “For it is God who works in you, BOTH to will AND to work for his good pleasure.” (Php. 2:13)

Amen

Remember, God gives you authority in the areas of influence He has assigned to you in order to build up, not tear down, someone’s faith (2 Cor. 13:10). Now go, asking God to answer this one question through you: How can I build up someone’s faith in my areas of influence today?

Quick Thoughts: For the Sake of Christ

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I was recently walking through a Half-Price Books when I saw a title in the religious section that grabbed my eye: “The Power of I Am.”

Hmm. That sounds interesting, I thought, imagining the different theological approaches someone could take by focusing on the name of God. Ignoring the author, I flipped the book over to read the description on the back cover. I quickly discovered that I had not only picked up a Joel Osteen bestseller but I had also stumbled upon a blatant theft of God’s precious name in the service of the prosperity gospel. Since I didn’t buy the book, here is the description according to Amazon.com:

Whatever follows the words “I am” will always come looking for you.
So, when you go through the day saying:
“I am blessed”…blessings pursue you.
“I am talented”…talent follows you.
“I am healthy”…health heads your way.
“I am strong”…strength tracks you down.
Joel Osteen reveals how THE POWER OF I AM can help you discover your unique abilities and advantages to lead a more productive and happier life. His insights and encouragement are illustrated with many amazing stories of people who turned their lives around by focusing on the positive power of this principle. You can choose to rise to a new level and invite God’s goodness by focusing on these two words: I AM!

It shocked me that a pastor would blatantly encourage me to adopt God’s name as my own personal mantra to self-improvement, but then I wondered how many stars reviewers gave this book. Wanna guess? Out of 1,491 reviews, the average rating  (on a 1-5 scale) was…

4.27 stars!

I would assume these ratings are by people who consider themselves Christian and/or spiritual. But one has to wonder how representative are these readers of the Christian community? And do they understand this principle is not even biblical?

To understand why, let’s take a quick look at 2 Cor. 4:5:

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor. 4:5)

WHAT WE PROCLAIM IS NOT OURSELVES

Paul centers his sights directly on the pride of man. He knows that it is an easy criticism for others to say that he is only doing what he is doing for himself. When a person receives attention, fame, wealth, power, or any other of the myriad of earthly pleasures, no one cares what vehicle they used to acquire these things. They only care about replicating the same success for themselves. They assume that these rewards are the result of Paul creating a successful brand centered around himself. So, Paul counters this argument and insists “what we proclaim is not ourselves.”

Notice, he does not deny that he is proclaiming something. Nor does he deny that it is for someone’s glory and fame. His point is that their proclamation is not for his own benefit but for Christ’s. It is to make Jesus known as Lord.

The tragedy is that so many people, including Christians, get this confused today. They place all their focus on the gifts God has given them and forget all about proclaiming the Giver as Lord. In other words, they make the gifts the object of their worship, and an unbelieving, cynical world looks on, scratching its head and saying, “There’s no difference between you and me. You want the same things I want. You value the same things I value. You just tack ‘God’ on the end of it and I don’t.” Such a proclamation is not winning anyone to Christ and is failing to make Jesus known as Lord.

BUT JESUS CHRIST AS LORD

So, how do you keep from falling into this trap? How do you demonstrate to a lost and unregenerate generation that there is more than just a difference in belief (i.e., theistic vs. atheistic) that separates you from them? You must live in such a way that the undeniable conclusion others come to is that your life proclaims one truth: Jesus is Lord. You cannot serve two masters. You will either love one and hate the other or you will hate the one and love the other. But you cannot be a “both-and” believer. This is an “either-or” choice. Either you pursue money, recognition, approval, ease, and comfort to make much of yourself, or you deny yourself, pursue the approval of God, and exert all your energies into making it known that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Be honest. Who do you seek to exalt? Whom does your heart desire to receive all the glory? You or Christ? You cannot have it both ways, for God is very clear on this point: “My glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isa. 42:8) Therefore, if your attempts at self-exaltation are doomed to fail, if God will not relinquish one ounce of His glory to share with you, if your pride always precedes a fall, then give up this inexorable effort and proclaim not yourself, but Jesus Christ as Lord.

WITH OURSELVES AS YOUR SERVANTS

Paul continues to extrapolate the point that he did not proclaim himself by reminding them that he became their servant. Servants do not lead. They follow. They minister to the needs of those they serve. They make themselves humble. They put themselves in the place of others and are committed to their growth. They do not seek exaltation. They do not desire power. They are meek, longsuffering, good stewards, and practice restraint.

But perhaps the most definitive, yet challenging, quality of a servant is their selflessness.

To refuse to put one’s needs and desires above the person he serves is one of the most difficult things to do. But when a person is the servant of another this characteristic must exist in order to be called a servant. We cannot look to ourselves. We cannot proclaim ourselves. We cannot place ourselves above others. Instead, we must follow the instruction of Philippians 2:3-4, which says “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

So, when Paul says that he was the servant of others, he is reinforcing the idea that he did nothing out of selfish ambition.

FOR JESUS’ SAKE

But then Paul goes one step farther when he says that he was their servant for Jesus’ sake. This is how we all ought to serve. We are servants to others only for the sake of Christ. We are not servants to others for THEIR sake. That would mistake the missional work of the Church for a man-centric work, whereby we focus on the short-term physical needs of people. Nor are we servants for OUR sake. That would mistake the work of the Church for a man-exalting work, whereby we are more about self-promotion than the eternal glory of Christ. We serve, yes. But we serve others FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST. We serve to set forth Christ as supremely valuable, so that all other pursuits may be exposed as transient and insignificant in comparison to Him. It is for this reason that Paul says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)

We do not serve to alleviate a human ill, but to elevate a glorious God. Alleviating the need may be a byproduct of our God-glorifying action, but it is not the reason for the action. When the focus of missions is on making the beauty and the perfections of God public and not on the temporary needs of man, the Gospel can be preached effectively, and many can come to a saving faith in Him. Suddenly they will no longer see the Church as another helping institution but will see God working through His people in His power by His instruction and for His glory.

Such behavior will transform “receiving Christ” from holding one’s self as supremely valuable and using God and His grace as the means of honoring or protecting that value. Rather, it will hold Christ as supremely valuable, over and above ourselves and anything else in this world.  For, any prize that I cling to above Christ does not reflect a new nature but only the same old carnal, man-exalting nature I have always had. But when I proclaim not myself, but Jesus as Lord, when I become your servant for the sake of Christ, I demonstrate more than a difference in belief. I demonstrate a change has occurred. I have not taken an old thing, clothed it in new garments, and sprinkled it with glitter. My nature and everything I live for has been changed from the inside out.