Tag Archives: disciples

By Anything but Prayer

 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:26-29

prayerI can still remember the first church dispute I officially mediated. I had been involved in literally hundreds of mediations as an attorney/mediator, many involving issues worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Then there was this conflict in a tiny church involving a dozen or so people and I thought to myself, “How hard can this be?” I remember whispering a short prayer or two on my way to the church, thinking this would be a simple matter to iron out…three, maybe four hours, tops. Two days later, the church split, the pastor left, and I had almost certainly done more damage than good. It was by far the most humbling experience of my life.

The lesson there had nothing to do with mediation skills. It had everything to do with prayer, and the only meaningful source of power for anything at all having to do with Christ’s church. Unfortunately, I did not learn the lesson then. There have been many more occasions in my own church since then where my own “expertise” or efficiencies have gotten in the way of what God was doing. I have come to see this problem as a part of the human condition…or at least MY human condition.

It was certainly the lesson for the disciples in Mark 9. A very short time before that failure at …

Undercover Boss

“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 ever seen the reality show, Undercover Boss?  I’ve always thought  the concept is brilliant.  It is truly a study in servanthood. 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 awkward circumstances that make you stop and think…and cringe!

Jesus was pretty good at coming up with those circumstances 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 about servanthood, 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 …

Churches Dying Well

Thursday Re-mix:

There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. Deuteronomy 32:50

“None of us are getting out of here alive.”  Jim Morrison, Valerie Harper, Evel Kneivel, Colin Murphy, Hilary Swank, Jill Shalvis, Elbert Hubbard (and these are just from the first couple of pages of results on Google)

Life is terminal.  We all get that.  Dying is just a part of living, and that is an eternal truth.  We may not like it, we may not be ready to fully embrace it, but it is truth.  And eventually, it is a truth with which we simply must deal.

abandoned churchBut have you ever thought about it as it relates to churches (i.e., to local bodies of believers)?  Have you stopped to realize that there is not a single “local church” which has been around from the very beginning?  All those “churches” mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3? Gone.  Even the good ones.  And the church you serve right now will die one day as well.  It is the natural order of things.

Churches are, metaphorically speaking, living organisms.  They breathe, they multiply, they regenerate, they get sick, and eventually, they die.  They exhibit all the same signs of life (and of death) as any other living organism.  My perception of “church” changed pretty significantly once I began to consider the implications of this.

In the first place, churches need nourishment and exercise in order to be healthy.  The nourishment is the Word of God.  The exercise is the stretching and bending and reshaping that Word constantly calls us toward.  And it also is the challenges (even the persecution) which God permits us to experience.  Exercise only …

Compelling Vision

Tuesday Re-mix:

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?  Mark 8:17-18

Where there is no vision, the people perish… Proverbs 29:18

I sometimes wonder if we in the church are guilty at times of confusing “leadership vision” with “ambition”?

It seems to me we place a great deal of pressure on our shepherds with regard to “vision”. We expect even our newest pastor to have a 5-year plan for where we are headed just as soon as we get him in the office.  I have even heard of one pastor search team asking a prospective candidate what his “five-year vision” is for their church.  Oh my!  How would he know that?  In fact, I would be wary of anyone who claimed to know before he had even set foot among the congregation.

Pastoral vision (i.e., leadership vision for the church), it seems to me, has much less to do with entrepreneurial foresight and ambitious goals and much more to do with actually seeing what God has been doing and what He is doing right now in the life of a congregation.  It is not so much casting my eyes out on the vast horizon before us as it is casting my eyes across the lives of the people I am leading and understanding what God is doing there.

Jesus did not shame his disciples for not being smarter venture capitalists or for not having keen insights into the trends of the day.  He did not rebuke them for failing to see what was coming or even for not anticipating the needs of the …

Good-sized Vision v. God-sized Vision

Tuesday Re-mix –

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Acts 1:6

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:8

For both churches and individuals, there is a difference between a good-sized vision and a God-sized vision.  Which do you have?  Great story about this in Acts 1.

I am thinking this had to be a disturbing and frightening scenario for the disciples who, for almost three years, had awakened each morning and simply allowed Jesus to set the agenda for the day.  The only thing he asked of them was that they follow him.  It was an easy arrangement, one that led them through amazing and miraculous moments and obviously changed them forever.  Now, Jesus was leaving them and telling them “you guys take it from here…go and do this ministry!”

“Wait.  What?”

With this, the most significant revolution this world has ever known or will ever know was begun.  The church was born.  Your local body of believers and my local body of believers (and every local church around the world) all call ourselves followers…soldiers in this revolution.  But the question this passage raises in my mind is this: am I an Acts 1:6 follower or an Acts 1:8 follower?  Additionally, which is my church?

These disciples had an impressive vision…one found in scripture and supported by nothing short of a promise from God: they envisioned an Israel no longer under Rome’s thumb nor its puppet governors…an Israel who once again was on top of the world, boasting strength and numbers and the support of the sovereign …

Our Own Undercover Boss

Tuesday Re-mix –

“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 Boss yet?  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 …

…And Some Doubted

Tuesday Re-mix –

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Matthew 28:16-17

disbeliefYou are probably familiar with the 80/20 principle of organizational dynamics.  It holds that, in any organization of any kind, once it hits its stride and “normalizes”, 20% of the people are doing 80% of the “work”.  I’m sure you have heard at least some version of it.  I dislike that principle as it relates to the church.  You probably do as well.  I have tried and tried over the years to kick against it, because it is not indicative of the “revolution” I believe Jesus intended.  If you are a leader in the church, you have probably tried to work against it as well, with varying degrees of success.

Want a sobering reality check?  I’m turning over the balance of this post to those very people with whom you are feeling frustrated.  I will let them speak for themselves.  Listen to some of the 80%…

I am that dynamic, gifted young leader in the church whom you ask year after year to take on a responsibility and I just keep turning you down.  I have doubts.

I am one of the huge percentage of your church members who is pretty steadily there for worship but have never darkened the doors of prayer meeting on Wednesday night.  I have doubts.

We are part of that handful of couples who seem so spiritually mature in Bible study discussion but who choose not to be there more than half the time.  We have doubts.

I am one of your elders or even staff members who start off so well but whose commitment dwindles over time and you begin to lose

How Much Do You Trust Your People?

Tuesday Re-mix –

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.  Matthew 10:1, 7-8

I have a ministry.  Well, it belongs to God, not to me…but you know what I mean.  I have been entrusted with an amazing ministry and an amazing message about unity among God’s people.  I know the feeling of ownership of a ministry.  I know the pressures of stewardship of such a message.  And I know the stress of placing the reputation, the very name, of that ministry into other people’s hands.  I know what it feels like to send other people out in the name of Christian Unity Ministries, placing them in control of our reputation, and having little or no control over how they will exercise that stewardship.

So I am more than just a little bit amazed at what Jesus does in Matthew 10, sending out the twelve to perform miracles in His name.  There was no tutorial about casting out demons.  There was no dress rehearsal for any of them to practice raising the dead.  He just gave them the authority, gave them a few verses of instruction, and sent them out.  Surely they did not all take to this task naturally.  There had to have been some humorous “fails” (like the one at the foot of the mountain in Matthew 17:16…I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him).  Nevertheless, Jesus empowered them, authorized them, and sent them out to do His Father’s work, and he exercised virtually no …

Counting Noses or Changing Lives?

Tuesday Re-mix –

And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.  Matthew 14:19-21

Jesus did not take an institutional approach to ministry.  He did not survey the neighborhood to determine what the physical needs were then implement a task force to study those needs and to plan the infrastructure of an organization that might be able to meet those needs and then go looking for funding for that organization and then go looking for the right people to fill the various positions in that organization.  Jesus did not do strategic planning to set specific goals and objectives for his ministry over a one-year, five-year and ten-year plan.

However, I do think Jesus operated according to God-inspired vision.  In the case referenced in Matthew 14 above, I believe Jesus recognized the hunger of the crowd and immediately developed a God-sized vision of what could be…of what should be…and of what would be.  And I believe he had one goal in mind…changing lives.  I do not think that merely feeding the people was his goal.  I also do not believe he had any goals regarding the number of people he wished to reach with this miracle.  Rather, I believe he wanted to change their lives AND change the lives of the disciples who helped Him.  His “vision” for that ministry was far greater than just getting a little food …