Here is a warning that is worth taking to heart: "Beware of establishing traditions in the Kingdom of God." Why? Because God is the only being in all of History that is the "I Am." Everything else is "i am." As a Pastor who serves in a Wesleyan-Methodist denomination, I've seen how great moves of God in the past become monuments in the present. I have seen people passionately defend traditions more than faith itself. I have heard language that treats methods from the first Methodist movement as if they were more sacred than scripture, and more desirous than the very presence of God.
All traditions begin as powerful experiences:
Consider the hymns. If you were to investigate the stories behind them you would discover that the authors of those songs were inspired through deep pain, great joy, passionate experiences, revival fire, and the like. People were touched in the moment and the song caught on. From that moment, of a soul being stirred by a particular experience and the expression of that experience, the human tendency is to reproduce that experience over and over again.
All traditions are fed by seeking repetitive blessings from old wine and old wine skins.
Once the fire is birthed in our hearts from a particular experience we seek to make it a tradition. Like an addict we seek to relive the same-old-high over and over again. The problem is, we're seeking the "high" from something "low." We're seeking a spiritual experience from earthly things.
Manifestations of God's Movements are Evidence of True Spirituality, but not spiritual in and of themselves.
The hymn is only the manifestation of a spiritual work in the heart of the author. Every form flows out of an encounter with God. The encounter is not in the form, the encounter is with God Himself. Because of this truth, all Christians must be careful not to worship objects of any kind, events, locations, people, art-forms and the like.
If a person knows God ... really, truly knows God... worship and experiences with God can happen in any location at any time, in any way. God becomes the constant for our lives and the rest is just stuff.
The truth is that many churches have this unspoken rule: You can worship God with us as long as you do so in the framework of our traditions. Traditions are not only old, they are new things as well. New songs and new methods can become just as addictive as old forms and methods.
Traditions cause division.
Traditions in the familial sense, cause division even though many would argue that they cause unity. Think about a newly married couple who faces their first Thanksgiving holiday as husband and wife. Whose family tradition will they honor? Will they go to the husband's family gathering or the wife's? Who will they say "no" to and how much guilt will be heaped on them for not honoring the family tradition? Are not our families worth more to us than our traditions? Is your family a family because of the tradition, or was the tradition just a manifestation of the mutual love you share? Evelvate the love and crucify the tradition.
The same is true in churches. Worship was never intended to be traditional (whether old or new) it was intended to be sacrificial and spiritual.
In the end, the simple solution is the have clear understanding of what is truly important. Worship God and God alone. Enjoy the manifestations that are birthed in the community of faith through moments of rejoicing, pain, revival and so forth. The moment they happen, beware of establishing a tradition.
One glaring example is the song "The Heart of Worship." It has a powerful story of how a worship leader wrestled with their own modern-day traditionalism and returned to true worship. The result? A generation of song-followers who worshiped the song. We must be very, very careful of our tendency toward traditionalism in all its forms.
Here is how we get from life-giving God experiences to death-inducing traditions:
I have a confession to make. I'm a chronic people-pleaser. I didn't get here over night and learning to handle the condition in my life and learn to manage it is a daily struggle. If you have the people-pleaser gene you hear every comment of every person through this filter: I Must do something about what was just said to me. Once people know you respond this way, they tend to over-use and abuse you because they know the rule: pull the string and get a response. Being godly is not about people pleasing. Jesus wasn't a people pleaser... he was a Father-pleaser... Jesus was holy and whole.
People pleasers can learn to say "no" but they must also learn to release the anxiety that comes with the results of saying "no." Once you refuse to please the person, you actually disrupt yourself. It's easier to say yes and bear the brunt of whatever comes sometimes than it is to say no and bear the anxiety. Anybody out there with me? So what is a chronic people-pleaser supposed to do in terms of following Jesus? Quite simply, we please God first and let Him deal with the demands of people.
God is not a people pleaser. In fact, much of God's interactions with His beloved creation are not "pleasing" at all. Quite the opposite. God is more dis-pleasing than pleasing because God is holy... higher... eternal... wiser... greater. God doesn't need to please you to get your vote because He is already the Supreme King of the Universe, Casting a vote against God only harms yourself. Being a wise leader that appropriately handles the numerous expectations of people is part of a pastor's job. We are the ears that hear the vast array of feedback (especially negative) that comes from the flock. Here are some lessons I've learned as a pastor who is learning to overcome chronic people-pleasing.
1. Know when to engage and disengage. Some feedback requires response, but not all feedback requires response. Weigh every situation and consider every source of feedback. If the source is good, sound, just and accurate in their assessment, then listen carefully and learn. If the source is emotional, reactive, self-seeking, pot-stirring and such, then listen carefully and teach the person (albeit with difficult truth) about what is happening in them. Sometimes it's godly for me to learn from feedback and sometimes its godly for me to teach out of feedback.
2. If you've been spinning plates for people unnecessarily, let the plates fall and break. If you find yourself caught in the trap of constantly responding to people's demands, that cycle of behavior is unhealthy and must stop. If you hand is constantly spinning that plate balancing on the top of the pole, there comes a time when you must release your hands of the plate. Quite simply, it's not a pastor's job to manage someone else's life. Being a good shepherd means you raise healthy sheep, not dependent sheep. If I die tomorrow, who will respond to everyone's demands? People will survive without the over-engaging involvement of a people-pleaser. Step away from the plates and let the people learn to manage.
3. Is God Pleased? ... THAT is the question. I am a pastor of people, but I am first a child of God. You can only serve one Master. Either you will please people and not please the Father, or you will please the Father and not please people. I've learned that people pleasing takes energy that otherwise is best given to my relationship with God. If I'm going to seek to fulfill anyone's expectations I will seek to please the One who died for me, not the one who would rather I die for them.
4. All Good Leadership Takes People Through Difficult Change. You can't be a people pleaser and lead people to spiritual growth. All spiritual growth that lasts comes through a crucible. The best lessons in life are learned in the meat grinder. Good leadership knows how to recognize those moments and help people through them, and not giving in to the temptation to just keep everyone comfortable. Good leaders lead... we're not flight attendants or waiters... we're there to help people develop in their own godliness, getting out of God's way to let Him do His work in other's hearts.
In general, pastors are called to lead others and teach others to do the work of ministry. It is not the pastor's job to do all of the ministry. There is much more that could be said on this topic. For instance:
Unlike an overstuffed sofa that just beckons to lure you in, then swallow you with comfort, lulling you into sleep, Christianity (i.e. Following Jesus) is quite different. In fact, it's un-settling. The ways of Jesus, commands of Jesus, thoughts of Jesus, call of Jesus, and so on are so contrary to our earthly routine, that the day-to-day rhythm of the Christian is actually not rhythm at all. Rather, it's a life of change-ups, hiccups, mental rearrangements, personal discoveries, divine discoveries, repentance moments, race-running, opposition-encountering, devil-resisting and forgiveness-grace-and-mercy releasing.
Matthew 8:19-20 NIV Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." (20) Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
The most grievous form of erroneous Christianity today is one that embraces a "gospel" of comfort and ease; a "gospel" where you just lay in the hammock and let God "do His thing while you take it easy." A "gospel" where checks magically show up in your mailbox and everything just kinda works out. The true Gospel of Jesus Christ will un-settle everything comfortable in your soul. Why is the primary job of the Holy Spirit to convict the world in regards to sin and righteousness? (
Prayer is implied in the Church of Jesus Christ.
When you pray, asking is a big part of the prayer. Prayer is relating to God, conversing with God, and yes, asking of God.
As desperation for an answer increases we may cry out to God.
Sometimes it can be difficult to discern an answer from God. For instance, we are told to pray for our leaders. How do we truly know if God has answered? What are the signs, if any at all? We pray for alleviation of poverty and yet, how do we know if God is answering?
The truth is, many Christians miss the transition from praying to acting. In other words, they miss the transition from asking for a solution, to acting to see the solution come to pass. A very simple illustration is this: I can open a door for you, but only you can walk through that door. If you stand still and refuse to move, you will never enter. I truly believe that God answers some prayers with openings and we miss them because we don't stop crying out long enough to test for an answer. You see, there are doors that God will open that no one can shut (Rev 3:8) but are we moving, walking through the door that God opened. God parts the Red Sea and then people walk.
I love what Bill Johnson, Lead Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, says of this: "Prayer is the place where we receive boldness and power to go into enemy territory and take the spoil." Given this quote, our prayers can take on a whole different dimension than usual. Instead of saying, "God, do something..." we can pray, "God, give me (power, assistance, help, boldness, gifts, courage) so I can do something mighty for Your Kingdom!" Now THAT'S a completely different way of praying.
That kind of praying speaks of your willingness, not just your request. That kind of praying seeks for yourself to be engaged in the answer, not just asking God to answer for you while you wait in the shadows.
When it comes to your prayer life, how much of it is filled with willingness? What would happen in your life with God if you began to pray more and more in this fashion? Consider the requests on your 'prayer list' right now. How many of them can you add you willingness to? How many of them can you bring before God and add your own living sacrifice to be part of the solution?
That kind of prayer will be answered in one way or another because God wants willing servants. You don't even need to be qualified, because your willingness is the only qualification God needs. The equipping for the job is on God. He will give you everything you need to take the spoils of the battle from the enemy. When that happens, your faith is built-up as well. You simply can't go wrong praying this way. Don't miss God's answers by asking without acting.
One reality of being a part of the Kingdom of God is that we are blessed to have access to the unlimited resources, wisdom, knowledge, and power of the King. If you are yoked together with Jesus and following Him daily, then there is no limit to what He can do through you! However, we need to have our minds renewed and understand the barriers we have established to keep us from reaching our potential.
Barrier #1: "Clergy / Laity Divide"
The establishment of the division between clergy and laity has kept many in the Body of Christ from reaching their potential. As a pastor, I regularly have people come and ask permission to do ministry. Jesus raised up disciples and set them free to minister. Yes, it is good to be accountable to one another... to check our motives or to discern particular issues within our ministry. It is good to seek wisdom from the church and it is right to submit to authority. However, there is still this overall mindset that a person can't engage in ministry without plugging into a program that is sanctioned by the church. Only 5% of the church population will ever engage in paid, "occupational" ministry. What about the other 95%? Is our Lord not able to lead the 95%? Is our Lord only speaking to the 5%? No, of course not. Jesus will lead. The challenge for the Clergy is to remove any and all shackles of control from the people and set them free to minister. If someone get's something wrong, then have an accountability conversation, but please, please do not squelch the body before it starts to minister.
Barrier #2: "Selective Obedience"
People tend to hear all of the commands of Jesus as a buffet of options rather than a list of expectations. When we pick-and-choose what we want to obey instead of coming under the authority of Christ, we will fail to live up to our potential. The commands of Jesus are good ... they are Spirit and Life. Jesus' commands lead to abundant life! Selective obedience is a sign that you desire to have Christianity on your own terms. You pick what is good for you, but not what is commanded by God. People tend to divert their attention away from commands that hit them where they live. Our own unresolved issues, our own unhealed wounds, our own disregard for selected commands of Christ, hold us back from our potential. What if you thoroughly examined the gospels for the direct commands of Christ and then took the mental posture that "Jesus really meant this." How different would your life be?
Barrier #3: "The Casual, 'It's Not My Job' Mentality"
There is a tendency for Christian people to disregard anything that lies outside their "calling." We take a spiritual gifts test and then disregard anything that falls outside the results. Is it wrong to show mercy even if your gift is not mercy? Is it wrong to help if your gift is prophecy? Is it beneath you to teach if your gift is giving? You see, the Good Samaritan got it right. Perhaps mercy and giving were not his "gifts" but he did what was right because it was the right thing to do. We really need to erased the world's view of Job Descriptions from our work in the Kingdom. Sometimes we need to minister outside our gifting or ability because Jesus will prove Himself powerful in our weakness.
What would you do for Jesus today if you knew you couldn't fail?
Go do it.
It's quite common for God to do things in ways that you and I really don't expect. It's quite common for God to answer prayers in ways we don't expect. It's quite common for God to transform you through your own mind renewal in ways you didn't expect. So, if our expectations are different than God's ways, answers and thoughts, then how do we know if He truly has answered, spoken and/or moved a mountain?
Here's what I've come to understand about praying for ministry fruitfulness; God creates openings, not happenings. Openings are full of favor and give us confidence and assurance, but the happenings are on us. We are, after all, the workers in His vineyard. What... not what you expected? Imagine you wanting to grow a great garden but had no land on which to plant one. A friend comes to you and says, "Here. Take this acre of land I'm not using and feel free to plan your garden there." What is your next course of action? Would you simply return home and expect vegetables and fruit to appear on that land without doing any tilling, planting, cultivating, watering or harvesting?
If you are looking for God to do a new thing in your church and in your ministry, expect His answers to your prayers to create openings of favor so you can work diligently, but don't expect Him to do your work.
Let's return to the garden analogy for a moment. So, you go to the land offered to you by your friend and you begin to dig, till, cultivate, plant and water. You then wait for Gods creation to do what only it can do. You wonder if the garden will grow at all because the weather conditions have not been ideal to growing. But, when seedlings begin to appear above ground, you discover that your garden is growing faster and more lush than any other you have planted. In the midst of the opportunity, you are presented with favorable results that defy the laws of nature. That's how God does things. His favor, when placed upon your work causes city walls to crumble, armies to turn on themselves and flee, demons to leave, and fruit to appear in barren wastelands.
Knowing when God has created an opening for blessing and favor to multiply your work in ministry is absolutely discernable. How, you ask? Get to work... that's how. If you want to know if a door is locked, go check the door handle! If it's open, walk in and if it's locked you'll know.
Many pray for revival but refuse to do the labor related to revival. If God were to open the heavens over you and your ministry work would you know it? Would you be like the farmer who cancelled all his daily plans to give his whole day to plowing his field because the weather was finally ideal to do so? Or, would you be like the farmer that looked out the window and, though he saw the favorable conditions, went back to bed and slept the day away?
Matthew 20:1 NIV "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.
If you are in a season of God's favor, then get to work!
The call to holiness is always lingering in my heart. God is holy. If He is in us and we are His Temple, holiness must be implied. One of the main reasons God led me to write "The Crossroads: Asking for the Ancient Paths" was to encourage the church to return to holiness of life; not by definitions of our own, but by the power and presence of God indwelling the believer. Today, I'm posting an excerpt from the chapter on "Holiness." If you like this excerpt, the book can be purchased right here on this website. Just CLICK HERE. God bless you.
Pastor Brett Heintzman
The death that comes before death.
When Jesus looks at us He sees something worth dying for.
When we look at Jesus, do we see something worth dying for?
Do the scriptures support this idea of “death to self?” Yes, indeed they do. Consider the following passages:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" (Matthew 19:27)
Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." (Genesis 22:2)
Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 21:13)
The inner rebellion will either prevail or suffer defeat at the crossroads of self and surrender. Those who choose surrender over self die in advance of their death. Paul was able to say he was “crucified with Christ” because he chose surrender over self. Peter acknowledged that he had left everything to follow Jesus because surrender won out over self. Abraham took Isaac and fully intended to sacrifice him because he was on the path of surrender. Paul verified his surrender when he said, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 21:13) Even though it took me a long time to arrive at the place of death in my own life, God proved this truth of entire sanctification to me in two ways. First, through the scriptures, so I could know about sanctification in my mind, and then through my personal experience as I surrendered all to Him and subjected my will to His.
For the longest time, I never understood what must go through the mind of someone who is martyred for the sake of Christ. I can recall youth group meetings as a teenager where a mock-hijacking would occur and people would storm into the room demanding that we renounce our faith in Christ or die. We were all familiar with the drill. We knew the correct answer, but it was a set-up, not real life. But what if our lives were threatened simply because we knew Jesus? I believe that no human is capable of the martyr’s response without first dying in advance of their physical death.
Dead to the world and alive in Christ. Dead to self and surrendered to God’s will and ways. That is the essence of holiness, and holiness is needed now more than ever.
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
It is this amazing combination of inner devotion and death, alongside the outward supporting evidence, all done through the power and inner working of the Holy Spirit, that produces holiness in unholy flesh. Is this possible? Is it possible to be “entirely sanctified?” Based on the biblical accounts and the power of God, I will answer with a confident “Yes.” Will I roam this earth telling anyone who will listen that I am entirely sanctified? I will refuse to use those words. Rather, I’ll allow my inner devotion to remain dead to self before my God, and allow Him to be alive in every outward deed of my life to do the speaking. And, should anyone see holiness in me, may all the glory, honor and praise go to God the Father, who gave us Jesus, His Son, and sent the powerful Holy Spirit.
A Church without holiness?Is it possible to have a church without holiness? Perhaps if we are studying literal definitions of the word church, we would have to say “no.” Perhaps the question should be rephrased. Is it possible for a group of people to claim to be a church and do churchy things without holiness? Yes, absolutely! When a person or group of people claims to be part of a holy church and has neither the inner devotion and death, nor the outward fruit, the damage that is caused is beyond troubling.
In the year 1879, author J.C. Ryle penned these words: “Sound Protestant and Evangelical doctrine is useless — if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is worse than useless; it does positive harm. It is despised by keen-sighted and shrewd men of the world, as an unreal and hollow thing, and brings religion into contempt.”
Verbal, Christian professions of faith which are not supported and evidenced by holy living do “positive harm.” This statement is beyond true. This statement speaks to the foundational truth behind every comment ever uttered claiming the church is full of hypocrites. Wherever our actions do not align perfectly with our words we become hypocrites. When we speak of holiness and our lives do not show the inward devotion or outward evidence of the Spirit’s presence, we are agents of “positive harm.” For this reason, holiness of life, surrender to Christ, continual growth in knowledge and grace, and an urgency from the pulpit to align our actions with our words is, vital.
The one and only thing keeping any church from a life of holiness is the failure of the pastor to die to self.
 Booth, William ; Wesley, John ; Bonar, Horatius; Ryle, J. C. ; Brengle, Samuel; Taylor, Jeremy; Law, William (2012-02-27). Top 7 Classics on Holiness: Purity of Heart, Heart Talks on Holiness, Holiness, God's Way of Holiness, Christian Perfection, Serious Call, Holy Living (Top Christian Classics) (Kindle Locations 2465-2467). . Kindle Edition.
Emotional, relational, situational, circumstantial, physical and mental pain is a reality of life. Every life. Just hearing those words I can safely assume you've conjured up images of past painful events of your life. Perhaps it stung your heart right now because of present pain in your life.
Pain is usually a momentary motivator to let us know something is wrong or has done harm to us and signals to us that we should retreat and seek safety. Think of touching a hot stove... it is ridiculous to think that you'd leave your hand on the heat while you consulted Google to see if you should stop touching it or not. Pain says "get out."
But pain often goes far beyond the momentary to the chronic. Chronic pain is a lingering condition, not a momentary warning sign. If a painful moment is a warning that something is wrong and must be dealt with, then chronic pain is generalized condition that something is "always" wrong, and hopelessness can set in when it seems like nothing can be done. Understanding chronic pain as an ongoing, generalized condition that has the potential to lead to discouragement and hopelessness brought me to this realization: The sin nature is the chronic pain of the entire human race.
We are all sisters and brothers of the chronic pain resulting from the sin nature. I live with chronic pain and so do you. As I sat in a town hall meeting last night addressing heroin addiction in Bradford, PA, it became quite clear to me that the resounding theme in the room was PAIN.
Something seemed to be very clear to me: We have lost sight of how to deal with pain in ways that lead us to life, health and wholeness. We have conditioned ourselves to reach for solutions that are not solutions at all. I would like to share some thoughts that were aroused in my mind as I listened and prayed in this meeting last evening.
How do you deal with your pain? When relational or emotional pain emerges, what action do you take? Do you find rest in unhealthy habits, emotions, language, actions or substances? They are not the answer.
Lord Jesus, help us through your great wisdom to learn to deal with our pain in ways that do not add to our death, but lead to life. We thank you that you can relate to our pain, not just because your bore the stripes, but you also bore our chronic sin. Call us to hunger and thirst for a move of your powerful hand in our midst. Spring up wells of compassion in our hearts. Draw us to greater revelation and understanding. Heal our land.
Rearranging chairs on the deck of a sinking ship is an exercise in futility. We've probably heard that old line a hundred times or more, but it's so true in the church today. Why is it that the tendencies of people is to wander away from the important things that Jesus instructed us to be about, and into the land of the petty and trivial things?
Here's a formula that I think applies, then a scenario that explains the formula:
Facing a crisis situation gives way to denial. Denial gives way to diversion of focus. Diversion of focus turns on the church and gives way to criticism. Criticism gives way to argument and division. Argument and division cause a drain of leadership strength and overall ability to address the crisis situation.
Pastors and Leaders, keep your focus. Do not let those who deny the better work and take up magnifying glasses rule your time and mind. In the same way, people of the church... if your church is focusing on the more important ministries of the church, stop draining your leadership with trivial details that have no purpose. Stop building golden calves while others have their priorities in order.
Priorities, people! Priorities.
Focus on these as the most important priorities and let the rest of the trivial details fall away. Church isn't about pleasing the people, it's about pleasing God. It's not about getting your way, it's about Him having His way in you.
One of the most dangerous spiritual conditions occurs when someone confuses their "goodness" with life in Christ. "I'm a good person" is not what saves you. Everyone has the capacity to muster up within them a measure of "goodness." Jesus said this: "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?" (Matthew 5:46) Yes, the tax collectors, swindlers, bitter people, those who hate many enemies... they all have the capacity to muster up some goodness for those to whom they choose to be good.
This is likened to what I have witnessed in people as "neutral spirituality." In other words, people believe that somewhere between heaven and hell; somewhere between Jesus and the devil is this condition of neutrality. We can be good, okay, status-quo, benign, not-as-bad-as, and just get through life and into eternity with our general goodness. This has caused the church of Jesus much harm.
Neutral spirituality always elevates the power of "okay-ness" over the power of sin, all the while it acknowledges Jesus with a nod of religiosity but "denies it's power" because of its reliance on mere "goodness." It's insidious and deceitful and is destroying the church. Neutral spirituality is to blame wherever we see sin creeping in the church and people tolerating it as if that was okay. We obviously need to be reminded that if God calls a particular act or behavior or motive or heart condition "sin" then no amount of our reasoning will change that. God doesn't call it sin so you are judged and condemned to death, He judged sin and condemned His own Son to death to pay for it! What grace! What ... amazing ... grace!
How then, in light of that wonderful grace that saves us, can we even entertain the thought that our goodness can replace the gift of God in Jesus? It can't. If you are in spiritual neutral then you are deceived. Again, Jesus says this to us: "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." (Matthew 6:24a) Either Jesus is your Master, or the sin nature is your master. If your sin is not surrendered under the blood of Jesus, then it still has power over you. If you've not allowed Him in to convict you of the sin in you, and you find that you're trying to navigate life, managing your sin while nodding in the direction of Jesus, then the sin nature still has power over you.
Don't nod at Jesus, surrender to him.
Today, more than ever, there are people whose aim is to try to correct the church and set them straight by getting them to welcome sin. The church must always welcome sinners because that is the heart of Jesus, but it must never welcome sin as its bedfellow. The church is not the problem. Sin, and the sin nature, is what must be set right. When it is, then the church becomes the collection of those who see the eternal value of Jesus and therefore surrender their "light and momentary" troubles. We surrender addictions, sexual struggles, our tongues, our will and our ways in exchange for his. The church doesn't need the world's ways, the church needs the higher ways of Jesus Christ.
Dear Lord Jesus, uncover for us the deceitful ways of spiritual neutrality and show us your most excellent way. Show us that we forsake you and deny the power of the finished work of the cross when we give in to sin. Let us see our sin for what it truly is and lead us in the way of life.
I hear many passionate prayers of people who plead with God for the removal of some kind of external trouble or circumstance. I certainly can understand why because these difficult and troubling circumstances are both difficult and troubling! I've prayed this prayer and so have you. Welcome to the human race.
But think about this for a minute. Does your help come from removing the difficulty outside of you, or does it come by strengthening and transforming that which is inside of you? Christians who seek external change before working on the internal transformation of themselves have not truly discovered God's ways. Jesus slept below deck in the ship caught in a raging storm while everyone panicked. Why? Because what was inside of Him changed His response to what was outside of Him. He didn't need the storm to go away because the storm within had been dealt with.
The truth is, you and I can't "pray away" circumstances. Some are within our control and we need wisdom for decision making. God will give us wisdom if we ask. Some circumstances are created for us by others who do not make wise choices. In those cases we need godly responses that seek healing, help, forgiveness, prayer, aide, love and compassion. All of these are birthed from an inward change. Still, there are things we are subject to due to nations and laws. We can respond as non-anxious, godly, fruit-of-the-Spirit bearing people if the inward has changed. God promises to change the inward.
If you find yourself constantly looking to the "waves around you" and wishing you could command them to be quiet so you can have peace, then you need a change of perspective. How quiet and at peace is the "inward you?" To the degree you have inner peace, the outward takes care of itself.
Today, may you be truly at peace, though the world around you be in turmoil.
Where does your held come from? Christ in you... the hope of glory.
Is every sin forgivable? Well, the short answer to this no. The interesting thing about the concept of unforgivable sin is that the sin itself cannot be committed by someone who doesn't know God. The unforgivable sin can only be committed by those who are familiar with God. Follow me here. Take, for instance, this account of what happens to the house of Eli and his two sons Hophni and Phinehas:
How can God forgive the person whose heart is so hard that they have nothing but contempt for the source of atonement? If you so disdain the source of your forgiveness that you loathe, misuse and desecrate it, how can you be forgiven by it?
You can't desecrate something you're unfamiliar with. These two young men grew up "in the church" and they were PK's (priests' kids). They knew better. They were raised with the knowledge and understanding of what these sacrifices were for and yet they desecrated them. To desecrate the LORD's offering is a grievous sin.
How does one desecrate the LORD's atoning sacrifice today? It is by desecrating offerings, holding in contempt the source of atonement. You can't hold Jesus in contempt if you've never heard of Him. Certainly in the time of Samuel there were other sinners both large and small bringing their sacrifices to the Temple at Shiloh to have their sin atoned for. God didn't pronounce any of their sin as unforgivable. The unforgivable sin was committed by the church people who knew better, but used the LORD's sacrifices as a source of personal gain, thereby treating them with contempt.
If you play church with what is consecrated to the LORD, look out.
One facet of this is how people "earmark" their monetary gifts to God. Checks are written with terms and conditions. We want to decide how the money gets spent so we tell the church what to do with it. "Here is my offering, now do what I say with it." No. We should give to the LORD with no strings attached. We give our money, not as an atoning sacrifice, but as a trust sacrifice. We enter the arena of playing church with God's offerings and thereby showing contempt for Jesus who gave all with no strings attached when we supposedly give to Him, yet tell Him what to do with it.
Brothers and sisters this shouldn't be so.
Tithes and offerings are to be freely given from the heart and then released by trust into the hands of God. Remove the strings, mandates, dictates and directions. Do not show contempt for the selfless sacrifice of Jesus by attaching selfishness to your "gift."
Are your offerings to God released and let go freely into His hands?
Me: Jesus, can we talk?
Jesus: Sure. You know I'm always here for you.
Me: Would it be okay with you if I cut back on my time in prayer. I have so much going on right now. I mean, you understand, right?
Jesus: So, what you're saying is that you are really overwhelmed with life's demands right now?
Me: Yes. See, you understand me.
Jesus: I do, but you don't understand Me.
Me: Why would you say that?
Jesus: Because you somehow have missed it that without me you can do nothing. If you understood me then you would think of me first because you would know that I might have a thing or two to say to you regarding your life.
Me: I know.. I know.
Jesus: No, actually you don't.
Me: Yes I do... the whole, "pray without ceasing" thing Paul talked about.
Jesus: Paul understood Me. He did so much, but everything he did was what I asked him to do.
Me: Everything? Seriously.
Jesus: Yes, everything... seriously.
Me: How is that possible?
Jesus: Because we talked every day, all day. He knew I had so much to say to him and he learned to trust me like I want you to trust me. Paul didn't work at doing things for Me, and he didn't hide anything from me, nor did he try to do anything without Me.
Me: That's a pretty tall expectation. How am I supposed to have time and energy to do all of that?
Jesus: There you go again ... you don't understand Me.
Me: (insert puzzled and frustrated facial expression here)
Jesus: Have you not learned that it's not about what you do for Me, but rather what I can do through you?
Me: But You gave us all a will... I have to make choices, decisions, and I'm held accountable to those aren't I?
Jesus: Yes, you are.
Me: So how can I live up to such high expectations. Obey your teaching, spend time I don't have in prayer. Read a Bible I don't always understand. Try to do good to everyone. Hold my tongue around the people who annoy me...
Jesus: Please just stop and listen for a moment.
Jesus: I have only one expectation of you, and if you can find your way to meet that one expectation, then everything else springs up from that.
Me: What is it?
Me: What is that supposed to mean?
Jesus: Just what I said, ... die. You know, if anyone would come after me they should take up their cross and follow me. ... Die.
Me: Can we drop the metaphors and just speak English for a moment?
Jesus: It's not that hard to understand.
Me: Then I must be really dense.
Jesus: You're not dense, you just need to change your perspective and look at things differently. I died for you ... will you die for Me?
Jesus: You keep trying and trying in this life to be something for Me, or to do things to gain approval or live up to standards, but none of that is what I desire. What I want from you is you. If you would let Me in, I'd guide you. I will give you rest. I will speak to you. I will purify you. I will give you power you don't have, wisdom you don't have, strength you don't have, and guidance you won't get anywhere else. But the one expectation is that first, you will die... to yourself.
Me: (after a long pause) That sounds hard.
Jesus: Harder than what you have now? My burden is light.
Me: All I wanted was an answer to a simple question... if I could cut back on prayer. Was that too much to ask?
Jesus: Yes, it was. If you knew Me and you knew the power of prayer you would pray...
Jesus: Finally, you're beginning to understand.
Me: Die, huh?
Jesus: Yes ... die.
Me: I've never been able to trust anyone but myself. Everyone lets me down.
Jesus: I'm not one of those people. I've got this ... I've got you.
Jesus: I'm glad we talked. I'm always here for you. I died for you that you might live.
Me: Okay... I'm in. I trust You.
Jesus: I have plans for you that you would have never imagined for yourself. Paul's life was a great adventure because He listened to Me and went where I told him to go. And when he got to every new place, he learned to trust Me to show up and give Him power and strength.
Me: Sounds like an amazing adventure.
Jesus: It was. Yours is pretty amazing too.
Me: So... tell me all about it!
Jesus: No. You couldn't handle the whole picture right now. What do you say we talk all day, every day, and I'll take the lead.
Me: Pray? ...
Jesus: Still interested in cutting back on your prayer time?
Me: Um ... no.
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.
(Luke 9:23-24 NIV)
Destructive and false self-declarations are holding you back. You know the kind... the voices in your head that repeat lies from the past, lies you've been told by abusive people, and lies you've heard from the devil himself. The truth of the lie is that it seeks to kill, steal and destroy. Perhaps you've tried over and over again to rid your mind of the voices and come to the end of yourself exhausted and frustrated. You don't have to stay there. There is a way to change it all. How?
Declaring the Word of God over your life. Constantly. Regularly. Passionately. Joyfully. Trustingly. Faithfully.
This isn't about positive thinking although we're told in the scriptures to meditate on good, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy things. This isn't about "name-it-and-claim-it" theology where you speak a "prediction" then just believe it will happen. This is about the power of the living Word of God - a Word that is Spirit and Life - being spoken over your life, and like a jack-hammer, it blasts the old foundations to pieces and replaces them with truth. God's truth. Truth that will feed you and guide you. Over time, your mind will recall what it is constantly fed. What are you feeding your mind?
Here's eight truths about what the Word IS and what the Word DOES:
You can fill your mind with self-help books, psychotherapy, and other counseling aides, but the Truth of the Eternal, Living Word of God is the only thing that will cleanse your mind and eradicate the old lies.
But You Must Use Your Voice...
This declaration must be verbal. Why? Because things you verbalize reflect what is in the storehouse of your heart. And the things that get stored the most deeply in your heart are things you verbalize. For this reason, the Bible teaches us in Revelation 12:11 NIV: "They overcame him (the devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death."
Dear friends, you must learn to declare... verbally declare the Word of God over your life if that chains will be broken. You may have had thousands pray over you, speak words over you, believe for you... but this is something you must take responsibility for. The words you declare have power, and there is no more powerful Word in the universe than the Word of God.
Here is a document I have compiled that can be used to help you in this process. You must learn to declare the biblical opposite to what you are struggling with. If you are weak, you must declare strength ... etc. May you be blessed and gloriously set free as you declare the Word over your own life.
One alarming fact about people today, both in the world at large, and within the church, is that they feel trapped in some way. People feel trapped in jobs, relationships, circumstances, financial struggles, addictions, habits, thoughts, behaviors, locations, etc. Trapped. Hopeless. Stuck.
In counseling conversations with people who are stuck I hear a common theme over and over again. Stuck people say, "I have to ..." (fill in the blank). They are quite sincere about it too. They believe that they have to cater to the whims and needs of oppressive spouses, bosses, family members, addicts, lazy people, etc. In co-dependent relationships, there is usually one person who seems to get off the hook in regards to being accountable for themselves while the other person takes full responsibility and accountability for two. Both are stuck. Both need freedom. Getting there isn't easy.
Moving toward freedom feels risky and full of pain. That feeling usually tightens the grip of the trap we're in. However, the scenarios we play out in our minds about how bad things will be if we break free from the unhealthy person are entirely imaginary. They are a fabrication of our minds designed to tighten the grip of the trap.
Jesus, Himself spoke of the personal accountability of each individual...
Matthew 12:36-37 NIV (36) "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. (37) For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
Furthermore, the wisdom of Proverbs says this:
Proverbs 29:9 NKJV (9) If a wise man contends with a foolish man, Whether the fool rages or laughs, there is no peace.
While this is certainly not the end of the discussion concerning how to break free from such relational turmoil and toxicity, here are some prevailing thoughts about how to break free and stay free:
Consider this: If you don't change anything about the toxic nature of the relationship, then nothing changes. Making one small change could set you on the course to freedom.
The call of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves wrestles with the desire to break free. Freedom from dysfunctional relationships feels like we're abandoning someone. You don't have to abandon a person to break free. Even physical distancing, reduced communication or ceased communication, removing of unhealthy financial assistance, etc. does not mean abandoning. Does a mother bird abandon her chicks when they are thrust from the nest against their will? No. She is being a great mom.
Freedom can be yours.
The future of the church will fully depend on its ability to get back to what is tangible and real about being a Christian. It's going to take more than discussion about these things, it's going to take real action. The problem is, our lives are so crowded with activity that we find it nearly impossible to "fit these things in." We ask, "I believe in Jesus, and I've confessed Him in public... Isn't that enough? ... I take Jesus with me into my busy-ness... well, mostly."
No. That's not enough.
What we need today in our hurting, over-sexed, abusive, drug-infested, idolatrous, self-centered, systemically evil world is spiritual power and heaven's authority. The problem with Christians is, we are no different than the world in that we believe we are automatically entitled to this power and authority with no responsibility or accountability on our end. Yes, you heard me right, there is an entitlement attitude problem in the church that needs a serious attitude adjustment. We expect to have church "our way" and we expect to have all of God's power and authority magically dumped into us like a government benefit check in our mailbox, having no investment in the relationship that is key.
What we need today in our entitled, over-entertained, culturally-relevant-seeking, pop-culture-mirroring, belief+nothing=salvation-subscribing, self-centered churches is to get back to making Jesus the center of everything. If Jesus says it, we do it. If Jesus models it, we embed it into our lives. If Jesus commands it, we obey. If Jesus sends us, we go. If Jesus prayed much, we pray much. Church culture, in many ways, is just as far off the mark Jesus intended it to be as we complain that our nation is drifting far from what our founding fathers intended it to be. Church "ala-American" is not Church "ala-Jesus."
Let's get back to what Jesus intended:
What does this mean for you? You'll have to give up something... and you'll have to take up something. That's the way it is for every follower of Jesus without exception. What will you give up? What will you take up?
Disruption is the derailing of the "normal train." Disruption is the interruption of normal rhythms of life and patterns of behavior. Disrupting is, ... well ... disruptive. It shakes us up. Sometimes, however, a disruption is just what is needed to move us forward in our spiritual transformation.
You and I are prone to letting patterns prevail over God's purpose, power and plans. When we do, we can miss out on what is best for us. God has revelation for us, power and authority, insights, new plans, new tasks and divine assignments for us, but we are too stuck in our patterns to allow room for Him to move. What is needed in those moments is a holy disruption. We need God to intervene and set us free from our own captivity.
Let's compare ourselves to the Israelites of old after they crossed the Red Sea and were in the desert. Suddenly, they were faced with a problem they had never faced before; a food shortage. This would-be famine brought them to a crossroads of faith and trust. Would they trust God (who had just caused them to be set free from the hand of slavery and brought them safely through a parted sea on dry ground)? No. They preferred their captivity. They actually verbalized a desire to go back to slavery. Slavery, to them, was the shortest and easiest route to solve the famine issue. God had a different plan.
"So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD." (Deuteronomy 8:3 NKJV)
God's plan was to disrupt everything in order to teach and reprogram His people to a new normal. The new normal had to be trust-based instead of captivity-based. The Israelites could not walk into true freedom until their desire for slavery had been truly vanquished.
The truth is that we in the church today are no different. There are many areas of true freedom that God desires for the church to experience. You don't have to be a literal slave, or a slave to a substance, or a slave to an illegal activity to be a captive. Whatever in your life controls you is what influences everything about you. Religion can be in control, relationships can be in control, legal substances can be in control, entertainment can be in control, fads can be in control, careers and even family can be in control. But that is not the way it is supposed to be for the followers of Jesus, we are to be only controlled by the Holy Spirit. We are to hear our Lord's voice and obey.
We need for God to humble us ... allow us to hunger ... and feed us something of His choosing that is a complete disruption of our old normal... to reprogram us to new levels in Him.
This holy week, ask God for this one thing... disruptive hunger.
The old song says "Everybody loves somebody sometime." This is true for everyone. from every race and nation people love. However, our love usually has a "shelf-life" or "conditions" applied to it. Our ability to love is either tied to certain persons, certain schools of thought, certain geographical regions, certain socio-economic groups, certain entities, certain ideologies, etc. Whenever the environment changes and we find ourselves outside of our comfort zones, our love perishes... It vanishes... It withers. Perishable love has an expiration date.
Christianity without imperishable love is a dangerous thing. God's love knows no limits or boundaries. It thrives in places your love will not go. It lives in neighborhoods you won't drive through. It calls out in socio-economic groups you care not to associate with. It is present where you refuse to be. God is love without conditions... we are usually love with terms and conditions applied. God's love is imperishable, ours usually has an expiration date. Love that has an expiration date is dangerous because it doesn't represent Christ whose love has no such expiration. Limited, perishable love, is expected in the hands of pagans, but not expected in the hearts of Christ-followers. Just as Christ has risen imperishable, we too must be raised imperishable in our love.
John Wesley called true holiness (i.e. entire sanctification) the "perfecting of love." Notice that he did not call it the perfecting of church attendance, worship music, bible study, tithing, casting out demons, healing, tongues, interpretation, apostleship, teaching, pastoring, discerning or prophesying. No. Holiness is imperishable, unconditional, all-encompassing love. Just like the LORD we say we follow. All of those other activities are needed now to do ministry work for the LORD in this age. Paul knew this when he spoke to the Corinthian church telling them what would fade and what would remain. Love is the only thing that goes with us into eternity. The greatest evidence of the Kingdom of God coming near to a person is Imperishable love.
This Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday, perhaps we should all seek the resurrection of our love in areas where we have clearly drawn boundaries.
LORD Jesus, who lives and reigns on high with the Father and Holy Spirit:
Help us in our weakness to perfect our love. Plant within our hearts the very same passion for your created race as You have. Forgive us for the ways our love diminishes when it leaves certain boundaries we have set. Test us in this and see if our love is true and authentic. Help us to grow in Your likeness. Forgive us for not representing You well when our love perishes. Forgive us. Sanctify us through and through. Empower us. Lead us.
Through Your power and Yours alone in the Name of Jesus.
Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth? Nathanael soon learned the answer to that question in the first chapter of John's gospel. Yes, good things come from Nazareth.
Today, most people don't get the connection between deep consecration to the Lord and true spirituality. We have spent decades dismantling the separation of certain behaviors and being Christ-followers. We reason and rationalize... "Certainly I can still do __X__ and be a Christian." We have fought to have both Jesus, and every form of worldliness, and forgot to search the scriptures to see if deep, complete consecration to the LORD, the kind of consecration that even drives us to give up things we have rights to, has a point. I can assure you, it has a point.
The first place to look for the root problem of the breakdown is to the Sabbath. Consecration of time gives sacred space for consecration of self. Remove the consecration of time and we, who are like sheep and prone to wander, have less and less motivation to consecrate ourselves. After all, we've gone to great lengths to assure ourselves that any kind of self-denial is pointless to our faith ... that asceticism is equivalent to nonsense... so we just do what we want, when we want, how we want, and say we believe but don't display our belief.
In Israel, every seventh year was a Sabbath year from vine dressing. Imagine walking through the country side of Israel and seeing undressed vineyard and undressed vineyard. What is the point? It's a Sabbath year and the sacred space of time meant that you left the vines to the LORD who created them and gave yourself to the LORD who created you. Complete ... total ... entire consecration... Holy to the Lord. An undressed vine is set apart to the LORD.
Which brings us back to where we started with the idea of Nazareth. The name itself is derived from the Hebrew "NAZAR" which is to be holy and set apart to the LORD. Nathanael's question was an oxymoron; a contradiction of terms. Yet, we are like Nathanael. We ask, "Can anything good come from NAZAR? ... Can anything good come from being an undressed vine in a Sabbath year? The answer is YES.
During Lent people give up a "something." You know, sweets, Facebook, meat on Fridays, etc. But who's ready to give up everything?
In Numbers 6, the Nazarite vow was to be taken to seriously and completely that they were not to even be in the presence of a dead person. That included immediate family. Compare these two verses... the first from Numbers 6 on the Nazarite vow, and the second from Jesus of Nazareth...
Numbers 6:6-8 NKJV All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body. (7) He shall not make himself unclean even for his father or his mother, for his brother or his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. (8) All the days of his separation he shall be holy to the LORD.
Luke 9:59-60 NKJV Then He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." (60) Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God."
I still think Jesus is looking for people who are undressed vines in Sabbath years for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Luke 9:23-25 NKJV Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. (24) For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. (25) For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?
Today is the start of Holy Week. I'd like to share with you today, my Palm Sunday message titled "From Life to Death." Be blessed. Pastor Brett Heintzman
What motivates you?
Behind every action there is some sort of motivation. Today, many people will go to their jobs. Working produces a paycheck and the motivation to work is the necessity of money to pay for the things we have and the things we need. That's a more simplistic look at motivation, but it's true, nevertheless.
But what about other behaviors? What is the motivation behind crime, addiction, laziness, self-loathing, lying, deceiving, fits of rage, sexual impurity in all its forms, drunkenness, etc?
We all have medications to deal with our motivations. I live in a city where heroin addiction, meth addiction, and poverty are on the increase at an alarming rate. As a follower of Jesus my heart is overwhelmed with concern and wants to act. I'm motivated but I'm also highly aware of my own belief that perhaps there's really nothing I, nor anyone else for that matter, can really do about this problem. If that is the case... that nothing can be done... then what do I do? I medicate myself with religion. Many Christians are medicating with religion. The religiously medicated may cry out from the sidelines to the addicted, "You don't need that heroin! Your pain won't go away with more drugs! You're only hurting yourself!" After crying out, we return to our own drug of choice, religious activity. We speak and hesitate to act.
No one who is addicted wishes to stay there. No one in poverty wants to be there. No one medicating with alcohol would deny it is slowly killing them inside and outside. However, many Christians would deny that religion medicates them. Faith without deeds is dead.
I have heard the arguments. "We really don't know what exactly to do about this. How can we act upon something we don't know." You're right in one sense. It is indeed hard to act upon the mysterious unknown. The root causes of these issues and their solutions is a mystery to us, but they are not a mystery to God. If we are His children, perhaps He's calling us to our own wakeup call to abandon our own medication and seek Him for the answers to the unknown.
Deuteronomy 8:3 NKJV So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.
God wants us hungry for change, not desperate for more religious medication that masks the problem with activity and churchy busyness.
God is humbling us.
God is allowing us to hunger.
God will feed us with manna (translated: "what is it?") if we will ask Him for it.
God wants to teach us something higher.
God has a solution we know nothing about.
God wants us to know that we live... truly live on every word that proceeds from His mouth.
What motivates you?
Are you hungry for the world the change?
Hungry enough to abandon your own religious medication for true Christ-like action?
Will you now return to your regularly-scheduled day completely unaffected by this message?
Be changed ... then change the world.
Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism; (6) one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Unity in the church is the key to what is possible in the Kingdom of God. Is Christ divided? No. Wherever there are divisions in the church whether they be in thought, interpretation, polity, practice, or tradition, they are man-made. Unity comes in Christ, but division has come through the church.
Division makes things impossible for us. Many make excuses for division like there is nothing wrong with it as long as we all agree on one central belief in Jesus. The demons believe and shudder! Are we unified with them through belief in Jesus? Absolutely NOT! When the early peoples of this earth began to work together in unity they decided to build a tower to the heavens. God looked down from heaven, took note of their unity in language and said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them." (Genesis 11:6 NIV) One people, one language, one motive, one plan, one mission, one task, one heart ... UNITY.
God created the language barrier to keep humanity from accomplishing the impossible while we were in sin. It was never His intent to leave us in a divided state. We are to be one church of people from all races, nations and tongues. The gift of tongues on the day of Pentecost put possibility back into humanity because of the reunification of language. God now wants the language barrier removed so that we can communicate and cooperate as one, so that nothing will be impossible for us. In sin we desired to build a tower to the heavens, with unity in holiness, we desire to build the Kingdom of God on earth.
In regards to post-babel language barriers, today is no different. We all may speak English but we have language barriers between our churches. Truth be told, there are likely language barriers within your church. If pastors were to conduct surveys on differences of theological thought within a congregation, there would likely be as many interpretations as there are people in attendance. Wherever there is disunity there is division... and wherever there is division, there is impossibility. Wherever there is unity in Christ, there is possibility.
As long as people continue to hunger for having church their way instead of God having His way in the world, we will be plagued with impossibility. When we let go and seek common language by all tuning ourselves to Christ, we will find that nothing will be impossible for us! That is what our LORD wants for us.
Ephesians 4:13-16 NIV ...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. (14) 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 men in their deceitful scheming. (15) Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (16) From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
We all know there are many things worthy of public news announcements that never make it into print and/or broadcast. While the world loves a steamy story of Christians who mock both themselves and Christ with their antics and irrational comments, I've met many, many brothers and sisters as of late who serve Christ that are far more newsworthy, but go unpublished. They are heroes of the world who rarely receive the attaboys they deserve. The conclusion of Hebrews 11, the great chapter on the faith of the heroes, concludes by saying "the world was not worthy of them." Their character, integrity, faith, risk, sacrifice, and devoted service speaks loudly and clearly.
Character traits of newsworthy, but unpublished Christians:
1) They are devoted to change:
Changing the world is a non-negotiable for these servants. I've met many who seek the Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven and never give up the vision of a world saturated with Christ and His holiness. They are change-seekers.
2) They risk courageously.
These heroes take incredible risks based on nothing by faith. They believe God has spoken and step into the place of miracle-expectation, before the actual miracle comes. They trust God in the empty spaces and await His power.
3) They are not experts.
Most of these people, if not all, will see incredible accomplishments for the Kingdom, yet say, "we had no idea what we were doing." They move ahead out of the limits of their own understanding to see God do great things.
4) They maintain humility.
All great newsworthy, but unpublished Christians are humble. They quietly move about this earth with no trumpets announcing their entrance. They are powerful and meek. Mighty and unassuming. Extraordinary though ordinary.
5) They work subversively.
These heroes float under the radar. They are wise and gentle, and they get things done. They don't demand that everything be promoted through press releases and grand celebrations. Subversive Christians do more underground good daily than anyone else I know.
6) They grieve the slowness of change.
They cry out, "how long, Lord?" Their hearts walk the delicate balance between joy and sorrow, anticipation and discouragement as they seek to see transformational change come into the world. Their work fits no metric of "return on investment." They just invest and trust God.
7) They pray without ceasing.
They know that apart from Jesus they can do nothing, so they stay constantly connected, knowing that leaving His side disconnects them from everything they need for ministry.
8) They wish for others to "get it."
They secretly wish for others in the world to see what they see, know what they know, envision what they envision, and care for what they care for. They wish that people who didn't believe in God could understand, somehow, that life in Christ isn't the comic-strip image that gets published for the public to mock.
9) They seek not personal fame, but only for the cause of Christ to advance.
They simply want Jesus to be honored for the majestic, holy, glorious, sovereign, Almighty King He truly is. When these dear servants see the name of Jesus slandered, they cry inside.
10) They never stop.
They refuse to stop no matter what. Nothing seems to tire them, though they are often very tired. They keep going. Why? Because they are compelled.
There is much, much more that could be said. They are the driving, powerful force of the Kingdom of God. They have left all to serve Christ. These leaders and servants of Christ in the world cause more positive change and effects than anyone will ever know. People who do not believe in God benefit from their sacrifice and goodness all day, every day, yet do not know the gift they receive in those people from the hand of God they do not acknowledge.
Are you a newsworthy, yet unpublished Christian? If so, may the Lord bless you abundantly for your sacrificial, loving service to Him. If not, ... why not?
Jesus never leaves us empty-handed after an encounter with Him. Jesus is a wealth of teaching if we will listen. This week, I have had the privilege to travel with a colleague to Atlanta Georgia and attend an open house at FCS Ministries (or Focused Community Strategies Ministries). FCS has been working for decades in the impoverished neighborhoods of Atlanta, Georgia to bring holistic solutions to these areas. I want to share with you my takeaways from this encounter. These are my own personal insights, and not necessarily direct teaching from their materials we received.
Move In or Don't Make a Move
If you are going to "minister" to a neighborhood, you have to do it through relationships. You will never be trusted by people with whom you are not willing to live. If you move into an impoverished area and let your kids attend the schools, eat at the restaurants, shop where the residents shop, etc., then you've established the credibility to have a voice in the lives of the residents.
Neighbors Aren't Experts
If you have the posture of the "Expert with the Answers," then don't bother. How can you have the answers to another person's problem if you've never met them, conversed with them, heard their hopes and dreams, etc. Your dreams are not their dreams. Your solutions may be no solution at all ... in fact, it may create more problems.
Focus, focus, focus.
Set a boundary around the neighborhood you're going to serve and stay there. I spoke to one of the team at FCS and expressed my heart-hurt over not seeing more progress in my own hometown after nearly six years of investment there. His response was, "yeah... you should start seeing results after about 15 years." Intentional focus is needed, not quick fixes.
Create Opportunities, Don't Give Them
It's better to create opportunities for people to thrive and flourish than it is to continually provide out of your own resources. People take pride in the dignity of work ... they want to provide for themselves... they need a sense of accomplishment. Making spaces for others to succeed is far more important than giving them handouts. Dr. Robert Lupton calls this "toxic charity." We met a young girl that works in a Bike shop started by FCS here in Atlanta and she said, "I will own my own shop someday." You can't put a price on that kind of thing. This girl now sees a way to something better... but no one just gave it to her. She was given a space to dream, not a bike.
There's more there than you think
Impoverished neighborhoods are not devoid of people with talents, dreams, aspirations and hopes. They have them, they're just oppressed under years and generations of oppressive patterns and decay. Find the spark and fan it into flame. This is why Jesus sent out the disciples with no provisions. The provisions were in the homes where they would go. Most ministry gathers resources, then goes out to give them away. When we run out of resources, we run out of the neighborhood. Bruce Bennett of Community Church Planting says, "The resources are in the harvest."
Take Risks ... Because Someone has to.
We walked into a corner grocery story called "Carver Market." This store serves the Historic South Atlanta Neighborhood with access to good food that is not otherwise available without a long commute... something not possible for many with no means of transportation. We say homes renovated then sold to people who cold actually afford them on their means. They were given opportunity to thrive. We heard directly from residents who spoke with voices of hope about the progress they see and yet the big tasks ahead of them. Opening stores, rehabilitating homes, implanting hope takes great risk, and someone has to do it.
Honor those worthy of honor.
We heard from Jay and Nellie, two 28-year residents of the neighborhood who had rode-out the long and difficult decline of the neighborhood, yet never gave up hope. After their talk I approached them. I told them that when people stay and commit for the long haul, they are worthy of honor. I told them, that even if no one else had never said it to them, I wanted to honor them for their 28 years of battling crime, loving their neighborhood, refusing to move out, believing change could be possible, and tirelessly working for a preferred future. A few tears were shared. They're amazing people with huge hearts.
There's more that could be said... far more. I'm glad for encounters that produce takeaways. I need them. You need them. I'm not the same guy I was three days ago.
What are the life-changing takeaways from your encounters with God?
I've never met many Christians who want to make no impact whatsoever in the world. However, I've met many they fear they've made too little impact... I'm one of them. Flying into an extremely large metropolitan center yesterday was sobering. This airport was so great in its expanse that you had to travel across what seemed like two villages to get to the rental car facility. Truth be told, I felt like an ant in the middle of it all. Small. Insignificant.
Proverbs 30:24-28 NIV "Four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise: (25) Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer; (26) coneys are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags; (27) locusts have no king, yet they advance together in ranks; (28) a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings' palaces.
Small doesn't necessarily mean insignificant. Ants can store up their food wisely, coneys pry open crags in boulders and make their home there. Locusts create mighty armies and lizards can be found in the homes of high-ranking officials.
You. You can be wise. You can carve out openings in rocks. You can create a mighty army. You can find yourself in places of influence. You. With the Lord, nothing will be impossible for you. That's great news! Do you know this? Do you anticipate this for your life? Do you pray to the Lord to have this kind of subversive influence in the world?
Not only are we promised that wisely-acting, small creatures can make a huge impact, we are also commended by our Lord to do so with His resources that create incredible possibilities.
Matthew 25:20-21 NIV The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.' (21) "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
These verses are not unfamiliar to most. However, one thing that is common to most believers is that their contribution to the Kingdom makes no difference whatsoever. Now, if you're sitting on the resources God gives you, then, by all means, get up and get to work in the Kingdom! I'm not saying "everyone gets a gold star just because." Jesus doesn't indicate that. However, I know people who work tirelessly for the Lord, give their lives to His work, invest their lives in others and have sacrificed much for the Lord's service. They wonder, "what difference am I making?" One of the curses of the American economy and mindset is "chartable results." Not all results in the Kingdom are chartable. Sometimes the fruit of your labor will not prove true until after your death. Sometimes you will get to see the results. In the end, you must leave this in the hands of the Lord.
You have one responsibility... be faithful to His service as He is faith to you. Use what you've been given to the measure given to you. Don't waste time wondering... get to work for the Lord.
Be the ant... the coney... the locust... the lizard. Store up for the Lord ... break the enemy's rocks ... join the Lord's army ... find your way into places of influence. Use the 'talent.'
Brett Heintzman is passionate about the spiritual formation of God's people. These writings are designed to draw us close to God and to help us live out of the riches of His presence. It's all about being in the world but not of the world.