So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threwthe Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea… Exodus 14:27-29
“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Luke 12:49-51
For one entire race of people, the Red Sea will forever represent God’s provision and liberation. To another, it represents destruction and devastation. It is all a matter of perspective. With the events in Exodus 5-14, the most powerful empire of its time was brought to its knees and forever crippled. But those same events served as a new day dawning for another nation. Destruction and devastation on one side. Salvation and transformation on the other. That is the divisiveness of the Red Sea in Exodus 14.
In this holiest of weeks on the Christian calendar, our attention has a laser fix on an entirely different symbol: the cross. Like the Red Sea, it is a symbol forever engrained in a culture for thousands of years. Like the Red Sea, it represents an end of an era and the beginning of an era. But, unlike the Red Sea, the harsh division between the those two eras carries forward even to today, literally dividing all of …
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” Hebrews 3:7-11; Psalm 95:7-11
As it turns out, hard hearts come in a pretty large variety of shapes and forms…even among church leaders. It is rarely as overt as Israel’s rebellion at Meribah. More often, it is a mild arrogance or self-reliance or pride at the heart of our hard-heartedness. So, as I study the above passage, I am reflecting on some of the less obvious (but more common) ways I have seen leaders “harden their hearts”…including me and my own heart.
Hardening our hearts to the power of God’s Word. Every time we catch ourselves thinking, “what this text needs is a little more of me…a little of my flash and polish will go a long way in helping it hit home in this sermon…” our faith in the power of God’s Word diminishes just a little more. Every time we receive a compliment for a lesson well-taught and we fail to acknowledge that it was God’s Word and not our communication skills that caused the real transformation, we steal God’s glory, and our heart hardens just a little more to the miracle of His living word.
Hardening our hearts to the power of prayer. When the priority we give gathered prayer meetings falls somewhere between repairing the hems of the …
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… Hebrews 1:1-2
God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. Hebrews 2:4
Marshall McLuhan was the first to coin the phrase, “the medium is the message”. In his instance, he was referring to the ushering in of the information age (specifically, television) back in 1964. He noted that television (and other similar media) were more than just conduits of information, they were actually shaping and reshaping the message and were as much a part of the message as the message itself. I suppose we could make the same observation today about social media. Twitter and YouTube and SnapChat are literally reshaping how (and what) we communicate. It just seems that, from time to time, a medium comes along that changes everything we thought we knew about messaging and communication. When that happens, “the medium becomes the message.”
Never in the history of the world has this notion been truer than with Christianity. In ancient days, God spoke His message through angels, He spoke His message through the prophets, He spoke His message through the law, and He spoke His message through miraculous signs and wonders. But never was the message so clear and so divisive and so disturbing as when God spoke His message through Jesus. The very embodiment of God, representative of all His glory and power and authority, Jesus is “the Word become flesh.” He is BOTH the medium AND the message.
For Christ-followers (for His church), we have a contemporary medium through the gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed …
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. Psalm 91:9-10
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
Holy Scripture is filled with amazing promises. But almost all of them come with conditions. You know the formula…“IF my people…will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, THEN will I hear from Heaven and…” etc. Or…“Trust in the Lord with all your heart…and He will make your path straight.” Most of God’s awesome promises come with a condition of some kind or another, or at least an assumption or implication. It seems to be one of His many wondrous ways.
I read all the wonderful promises of Psalm 91 in that same light. Those promises of God’s protection and provision all hinge upon the very first line (repeated in verse 9): If you make the Most High your dwelling.
When I deal with conflicting parties within the church, I often hear both sides invoke the name of the Lord for their positions. I hear both sides claiming that God is on their side, that He will prevail and that He will bring about what they want. But I also hear both sides in very much a “win/lose” mindset, wherein they will not be satisfied unless they win AND the other side loses. I recall working with a church some years ago wherein one group was very much wanting to get rid of the pastor. They were acting as “God’s agents”. Midway through the process, the pastor accepted …
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Theology is difficult for me. Understanding God is difficult for me as well. I do so much better with stories and metaphors to try to get my mind wrapped around Biblical truth. Maybe you’re that way too…in fact, maybe we are all that way. Maybe that is why God gave us His Word in the form of Jesus and in the stories of the Bible rather than in formulas and spreadsheets. Surely that is why Jesus used stories, similes, and metaphors so much in his own communication.
The metaphor most of us use to describe our Spiritual pilgrimage, our faith walk, is relationship. We talk about our relationship with Christ, or with God. We use little sayings like, “It’s a relationship, not a religion.” We use that term (that metaphor, if you will), because it best captures what it means to follow Christ. It is NOT a metaphor Jesus used for ancient times, because it would not have had meaning then. It is NOT a vocabulary we find anywhere in God’s Word. But, like the term “mission”, it still has profound meaning to our culture today, and it is a useful way of describing our part in this amazing revolution that is Christianity.
The call to follow Christ is a call to relationship. Yes. So, why doesn’t that answer all our questions? Why does that metaphor fall short for …
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19
This year has been a huge transitional year for our ministry, Christian Unity Ministries. We will always remember 2013 as the year we transitioned from a small, church consultation ministry operated by Blake and a few of his friends in their spare time to a full-fledged, global non-profit organization with a paid staff and active arms operating in churches and denominational entities all over the world. Last year’s budget: approximately $75,000. The 2013 budget: approximately $350,000. That, my friends, is a God-sized transition!
One of the most painful transitions, it seems, is the one going on in me…the transition toward becoming the visionary leader this new organization now requires. And, just to get very specific here for purposes of this post, I am thinking primarily about the transition into becoming a leader in matters of money and fundraising. Anyone who knows me very well at all, knows that I have simply never been very passionate about fundraising. I have long recognized the eternal truth that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And so, it has always been easier for me to just avoid talking (or thinking) about money rather than having to delve into any theology concerning …
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ” Matthew 25:41-46
Have you seen the reality show, Undercover Bossyet? I have not, but I think the concept is brilliant. What could be more entertaining than seeing a bad employee treat someone badly who turns out to be the CEO of their company? It’s one of those concepts that makes you stop and imagine…the horror!
Jesus was pretty good at coming up with those concepts as well. There were times when you just know the disciples sat speechless, looking at one another…in horror. I think the passage above is one of those times. I think when Jesus spoke these words, all of the disciples’ minds went to the exact same place yours and mine do…to that homeless man or woman in the street earlier today with whom we would not make eye contact, because we just did not want to speak to them or otherwise get …
All the believers were together and had everything in common.They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Acts 2:44-45
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them allthat there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the salesand put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Acts 4:32-35
Here’s a test question for you as a church leader: which is more “successful”…ministering to the needs of 50,000 people by mobilizing 5 people…or ministering to the needs of only 500 people by mobilizing 500 people?
Some 15 to 20 years ago (suddenly feeling great surprise that it’s been that long now) my wife, our two little girls and I joined a small team of about 5 other families, all spending our Spring Break on mission in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, doing Vacation Bible School at a small church there. Over the ensuing 8 years, that same trip grew to become a church-wide Spring Break family mission trip of some 100-150 “missionaries” ranging in age from 6-months to 80-years. We had medical mission teams, construction teams, music teams, drama groups, VBS on multiple sites, sports evangelism teams and even pastoral care teams. We gathered everyone together at our campsite every night for worship and reporting. As you might imagine, it was chaotic and fantastic all at the same time. There was no childcare ministry…we all took care …
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NASB)
I grew up with a pretty healthy dose of Zig Ziglar and Norman Vincent Peale and The Power of Positive Thinking…or at least with my Dad’s slightly more scriptural version of that philosophy. Dad used to always say to me, “Son, with God’s help, you can accomplish anything you set your mind on accomplishing…and you can be anything you set your mind on being.”
Honestly, I am not sure I ever really believed that.
I just never really bought into the promise that, “through God, I could do all things.” The whole notion of being some kind of spiritual superhero sounded glamorous and all, but it raised a few questions in my mind. First of all, what if I set my mind on being God? Could I accomplish that? Secondly, shouldn’t there be some moral correlation to that rule? Or is it really anything at all to which I set my mind? And what if what I really set my mind to accomplish conflicts with what you really set your mind to accomplish? Then what?
I had a thousand questions about this concept, especially the secular version of it. But even the scriptural version gave me trouble: I can do all things through him who strengthens me. It would be many years before I would begin to understand it.
As it turns out (I would later learn), being empowered by God is not quite the same thing as being gifted with super powers which I could then go and use either for evil or for good. Moreover, it does not even mean that my story will always be powerful or successful or even meaningful. In fact, being the kind of Christ-follower Paul describes …
…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:13-15
Step 7: We humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings.
[I am using these Tuesday Re-mixes for a few weeks to think (again) about addiction to self-reliance and how that addiction is one of the biggest challenges to genuine community which we face in the American church culture.]
I have a dream…
…of breaking free from the shackles of self-reliance and resting instead in the sure hands of Christ and His Holy Spirit, looking to Him alone for my daily bread and for my affirmation and for my validation as a man and a father and a husband and a teacher and a vessel of His Spirit.
I have a dream…
…of escaping from the complexities I have created in order to preserve the lie that I have my life under control and that I am the perfect manager of my soul, a lie I have convinced myself to maintain in order to enjoy the approval of men, a lie I have obliged myself to tell in order to prevent anyone around me from having to deal with my true ugliness.
I have a dream…
…of tearing down the walls which divide my work life from my church life and my family life …