Monthly Archives: April 2004

I Asked for Strength, and God Gave Me a Limp

Being a godly person requires a strange mixture of humility and boldness. Jesus modeled this out by casting the merchants out of the temple while at the end of His earthly ministry He endured the pain and shame of the cross.

Jesus never shied away from boldly proclaiming the truth and challeging the authorities that were leading the masses astray. Yet, He continually gave praise to the Father and hung out with the lowliest of the low.

Modern day Christians should avoid pride while clearly recognizing their position and authority in Christ. Just as we are not to make outrageous boasts, we should avoid belittling ourselves or living in the dumps of condemnation. The true identity of a Christian can only be found in the depths of what God says about us and His work on our behalf.

Jacob sought a blessing from God when he wrestled all night with the Angel of the Lord. Jacob’s willingness to hold on no matter the cost illustrates his determination to get God’s best. Oh, that I would wrestle more instead of wallow in the muck of life. God answered Jacob’s request. He blessed him and oddly broke him at the same time.

The Angel of the Lord touched Jacob’s hip causing it to become dislocated. Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life. Sometimes we find the greatest blessings in the most surprising places. We must first be broken before we can be made whole. God can work through our weaknesses and pain to shape us into a masterpiece.

The apostle Paul wrote that God said to him when He refused to take away Paul’s thorn in the flesh, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9).


Auto Pilot Christians

The more I “do” ministry, the more I discover that most people go through life on auto pilot. I tend to do the same thing. We have different auto pilot settings depending on the circumstance. There are settings for work, family, church, social gatherings, sports, school, court, public transportation, night clubs, first time encounters, etc.

The auto pilot helps you navigate the situation without making a big social blunder or exposing yourself to some kind of personal attack or being vulnerable in any way. The auto pilot keeps our facade in tact and reputation golden. But does it also keep us from really living?

What happens when you “go to church” every week with the auto pilot on? You may be a regular at the Sunday service but never really encounter God or others Christians. The auto pilot allows you to have a “good time” without having to make any major changes to your coarse.

If we want to see the power of God mainfest in the church, we must be willing to take off the auto pilot. The price may be great, but the rewards are beyond comprehension. Unfortunatley, most are not willing to take off the auto pilot. They would rather play it safe.

Church leaders can help people see their need to take off the auto pilot by creating gatherings which by design force people to face the unexpected. What would happen if a pastor walked out half way through a sermon and encouraged the congregation to read the Scripture passage for themselves and discuss it with those around them? What would happen if a worship leader introduced the novelty of worship without music? What would happen if a foot washing ceremony mysteriously landed on the Sunday agenda one week? What would happen if prophets started acting like they did in the Old Testament? Some of these guys did some pretty outrageous things just to get the people’s attention…No I’m not encouraging anyone to take their clothes off like Isaiah did.

The medium can really be the message. How we do things can matter more than what the preacher says from the pulpit. People remember more what you do than what you say.

Sometimes our church practices run contrary to our words. This destroys the effectiveness of the message and causes people to turn away from the church. If you want to see the power restored to the church, be willing to take the auto pilot off and let God be God.

Who knows what could happen then!!!

Painting vs. Soaking

“It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through.”

-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

C.S. Lewis wrote about the impossible challenge of living the Christian life. He compared it to the difference between painting and dye soaking through fabric. Too many people focusing on painting the outside when the inside needs to be changed as well. Just like a white shirt can’t change colors on its own, we cannot live the Christian life apart from the power of God.

Jesus applies the dye of His holiness to our lives, but we must absorb it. A human cannot be holy apart from God. The apostle John wrote, “But as many as received Him, to them have He the power to become the sons of God, even to them that belive on his name” (John 1:12). Christ imparts to us His grace and power to become what He has called us to be.

How deep has the dye of Christ soaked through your life? Are you paint the surface or soak the soul kind of Christian? Being a Christian is more than just a cosmetic facelift, it requires a complete recreation of the inner man. Thankfully, the blood of Jesus is a very powerful dye. It makes all things new.

Consumer vs. Consumed

Here’s a deep thought that I heard from a brother in Christ the other day. We were talking about worship and music. He said, “The objective is not to be a consumer in worship experiences but to be consumed by passion and love for God.” WOW! Gulp! I’m sorry, Lord.

It’s so easy to treat music worship like going to a rock concert. We are not the audience. God is the audience. Worship is about God not man. A true worshipper can praise God in a white room with no windows and no sound. A true worshipper doesn’t need music. A true worshipper can worship when the singers are off key and the beat is slow.

Are you a true worshipper???

Surrender – Bend Your Stiff Neck

The idea of surrendering is not a popular concept in modern society. People tend to think of being defeated, caught by the cops or overwhelmed by a powerful foe. Yet absolute surrender is exactly what God wants from us and is the key to ultimate happiness.

There is absolutely no better place to be than right in the middle of God’s will, and the only way to get there is to set aside what we want to do. But somehow this tends to run against the grain of common opinion. People will go to great lengths to avoid listening to God. The enemy has done a good job implanting the idea in people’s minds that God wants to take away all our fun and put us under house arrest. The devil presents God as the one who wants to limit life not give real life.

Jesus said that the devil is a liar. But for some reason, even many Christians end up believing his lies.

In the oriental culture, people bow or bend their neck as a sign of honor and respect. A servant might do this to a master or a peasant to a wealthy landlord. Jesus called His followers to bend their necks and let Him put His yoke on them.

Many think that when they bend their neck, God will enslave them. They fear being forced to carry a heavy weight or losing freedom. But actually, God wants to liberate people from sin and a worthless life. Jesus wants to remove the chains tied around about God’s children. Jesus came to liberate and loosen those caught in the devil’s grasp.

Although God wants to liberate mankind, our necks become stiff from years of trying to hold up our head under the weight of our own sin. We refuse to let God help us and stumble under the weight of our own yoke.

If you feel overwhelmed by life or problems, if you are tired of trying to do the right thing on your own, if you want to experience God’s divine life, if you want to enjoy God’s peace and pleasure, stop and surrender to God. Under the yoke of Christ, you will find rest, direction, fulfillment and true love.

Cornered by the Beating of My Hideous Heart

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! tear up the planks! here, here! it is the beating of his hideous heart!” -Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart

Poe’s story about a man captured by his own deeds closely resembles what I have discovered as I gaze into the depths of my soul. There is part of me that has been refind by the power of God and looks something like a beautiful landscape painting. Yet there are places where the old man remains in control. These areas are dark, dank, without light or hope. In the deep recesses of my heart remains the blackest evil. It scares me to look within sometimes. Even in what may seem like “good” activities, I find selfish, evil motives orchestrating my decisions and pulling the puppet strings of my life.

Why do I work so hard to do the right thing? Am I still trying to justify myself to God based on my own works? Why do I reach out to some people in need? Is it more about my desire to feel good about myself than to really help someone else? Why do I write about my struggles to know and serve God? Am I really trying to honor God or do I just like to see my words in print?

Facing my real self – I have rediscovered that my motives aren’t always pure. Sometimes I want to make a difference more than know God. Sometimes I stay busy in ministry because I am afraid to be alone with God. Sometimes I care more about being right than being a servant. Sometimes I do things because I want people to like me and to have a good reputation among other Christians not because God has called me to do them. Sometimes my motives are mixed with selfishness and godly zeal.

Oh, I want to be pure, completely refined…free from the old nature. But will I ever get there?

II Corinthians 5:4-5 (NIV) 4For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Sometimes I just want to yell, “Tear up the planks! here, here! it is the beating of my hideous heart!”

Whose Side Am I on Anyway?

Coming face-to-face with the ramifications of ministry, I am led to wonder if I am really about God’s business or somebody else’s idea of what God wants. God desires to intimately know His people. Yet much of life and ministry seems to take up our days keeping us from spending time with God. You can know a lot about somebody and still not really know them on a personal level. That is kind of where I see much of the modern Church. God is not a figure in a history book. He is our ever-present, very real, extremely active, and righteously jealous Father and Lord.

God designed the family to be the primary mechanism for physical, emotional and spiritual structure and order in society. Yet much of modern ministry is spent separating out the family in little pieces. Instead of unite drifting family members, frequently our programs and ministries help encourage the divide to grow. Although this may not be the intention, it certainly can be the result. While segmented ministries have there place, so do family-focused ministries.

You may think, ‘How do real ministries encourage divisions within families?’ Well, many ministries do give people just enough of a ‘spiritual’ fix that they are deluded into thinking that everything is OK when the root problems still exist. Sometimes people have to reach the point of complete and total desperation before they will change. By continually throwing them life rafts, they are managing to stay afloat just enough that they don’t want real help. They don’t want anything that would require real change. A new facade and warm fuzzies will do. Thank you very much.

People tend to look for the easiest path. We don’t generally like pain. If getting together as a family to really deal with major issues is too hard, we’ll flock to anything that is a diversion, especially things with the Christian label. Afterall, if it is a Christian event, it has to be a good thing…right?

We may only stop and let God change our hearts when the pain of not changing gets so great that it becomes more severe than the pain caused by staying the same. Our natural inclination is not to change but to run and hide. Why do I have to change? Why can’t I just go and be ministered to by trained professionals?

It can be real easy to run from responsibilities because the kid’s church, youth group, Sunday service or other activity seems to be doing such a good job with our kids, spouses or even ourselves. Good ministry sometimes encourages Christians to be spiritually lazy in their personal and family lives and responsibilities. We find ways to justify our disobedience by thinking, ‘Well, the church is doing such a good job with training my kids, discipling my family, etc. I don’t want to get in the way of that.’ Hogwash!

God has set you in your family. God had gifted you. He will give you the revelation you need to be what He has called you to be. All you need is the faith of a child to accept it.

While I see that many of the things I do in ministry has made positives impacts, I wonder if sometimes I have been helping people keep afloat when really the best thing for them would be to go ahead and drown. It tends to be when we come to the end of ourselves that we allow God to truly rescue us.

Family Ministry without the Family

A while ago, I read an article called, “I Used to Be a Thief.” In it, Chris Stewart, a youth minister, detailed how he went along with youth ministry as usual until he stopped to take a real hard look at the outcome.

Stewart wrote, “I got away with it. And I would still be getting away with it today if the Lord hadn’t caught me and set me straight. My subject of criminal activity? Ministry. My victims? Parents of youth in my churches. That’s right. I used to be a thief, and I was good at it. They never even knew I was robbing them. I was slick. I was precise. I would walk right into their homes and, right in front of their noses, snatch away everything that had originally been given and entrusted to them.”

Stewart identifies one of the major problems hurting the Church today. There are plenty of ministeries where people are grouped by age, need or some affinity. There are programs for youth, children, singles, couples, men, women, seniors, addicts, young moms, sports nuts, musicians, prayer warriors, etc. The list could go for what seems like forever. But where is the family ministered to as a family? Better yet, where does the family minister to others together as a family? Families are carved up into little groups. Most families don’t even sit together in the main Sunday service.

My ministry experience have led me to conclude that many of the issues that people face are directly related to their family. Some issues may never get resolved until the family comes together. Churches should be connecting disconnected families not enabling bad practices of parents, spouses or children.

Stewart wrote, “Parents… we have been given a responsibility by our Creator, our Father. Our responsibility is to lead our children in the ways of the Lord (see Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Leading our children in the ways of the Lord is NOT putting them off at church so that they can be taught by someone more ‘qualified’ to teach the Bible. There is no one more qualified for your kids than you.”

Effective church programs have enabled many people to be lazy and walk away from their God-given responsiblities. Enough is enough, family minister must become more than something covered in a Sunday sermon. It must be a guiding principle in modern Christian fellowships. Don’t wait around for your fellowship to get it right. Be proative about your family gathering together to run after God together. Transformation will take place one family at a time. Although the road may seem full of perils, the payback is priceless.