Monday, March 31, 2014

Malchus’ Ear

I posted the following sentences on my social media accounts as I was thinking about the reaction of some to the recent release of the move Noah:

Sometimes the Church gets upset over the least important things. This is a good time to review what upset Jesus and follow His example.

Jesus got upset over moneychangers in the Temple.  He wouldn’t tolerate the religious garbage the Pharisees laid on people. He corrected his own disciples when they tried to keep people in need away from him.  It seems Jesus’ list of things to get upset over were lists that applied to his followers or those who declared that they spoke for God. I don’t recall him correcting much else in the culture of his day.

I posted my thoughts on my social media accounts because some of my brothers and sisters in Christ are upset about the movie, Noah. I haven’t seen it yet because my wife and I want to go when the crowds die down.  I read once that John Stott, the great British theologian, would go to a movie with a purpose in mind.  He would go to the movie, lean forward in his chair and study what was being said.  Stott did this because he was trying to learn the language of culture so he could lovingly engage them in meaningful dialogue once he left the theater.

I am almost halfway into my fourth decade of being a pastor.  Like most people my age, I have seen a lot of things come and go. The movie, Noah, will come and go. What will remain are the memories of the theological gymnastics of the Church. These visual and verbal responses of disgust are what our culture will see that speaks to them of our value system.

People in our communities see the angry Facebook posts.  They see prominent Christian leaders and others wringing their hands in disgust that a movie took creative license. What we begin to resemble is Peter who was trying to defend Jesus at the time of his arrest.  When something like the movie Noah comes out we mount up our collective disgust and attack our cultural Malchus, miss his head and lop off his ear.

“Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?” John 18:10-11

John didn’t tell us the rest of the story - Luke did.

“But Jesus said, ‘No more of this.’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” Luke 22:51

The culture was never supposed to be bloodied at the hand of the Church.  We are healers and hope-speakers. We want them to have both ears intact so they can actually hear things that matter like, “You are forgiven.” “God loves you.” “You have a destiny and purpose.”

Paul gave the church in Corinth some wise advice that sounded a lot like what Jesus would say. Paul said, “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders.” I Corinthians 5:12a

When Jan and I go see Noah we are going for entertainment, just like many others in the theater who may not yet know God’s love. Sometimes we think the people in our cities are not smart enough to realize these are just movies, not a commentary on the Bible. 

Regarding the movie Noah, I will go, lean forward in my chair and try to find something I can use to engage my culture.  When I leave the theater I am also going to invite Jesus to come and heal the people in my community who have had their ears lopped off by the Church.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Experts and the Opinions of Man

Where many experts exist there is little forward motion, only opinions that lead in different directions. Seek a word from God and follow it. God will be faithful to lead you to a place of promise even if the experts disagree with your decision.

One of the challenges in our over-informed culture is the over-abundance of opinions and options available to us at any given moment.  Experts surround us. This is not a bad thing.  How we use these experts is ultimately our choice and can only become something negative if used improperly.  An expert in any field is never a replacement for a word from God. A wise expert will make that clear to you from the outset.

From time-to-time, I have called upon some of these experts, but only after I had received a word from God about what He wanted me to do.  The longer I live the more I am convinced that experts serve us best after we hear from God.

These words from God are intended to set our initial direction.  Once God has pointed us in a particular direction, wise counsel can be invited to the process to help us make plans to steer our lives along in the journey forward into our destiny. The word from God is our compass, never an expert’s opinion or suggestion.

This abundance of experts can begin to displace the voice of God in the Church if we are not careful.  Many of our conferences and gatherings are planned around the wisdom provided by experts in a given field. We faithfully listen to these experts explain in detail a journey someone else took while we wonder why the breakthrough we so desperately desire has not taken place in our lives and ministry.  Opinions of man can too easily replace a word from God. The power for breakthrough is in the word, never in the plan. The plan will work only if the power of the word is what is driving our obedience.

In Acts 13 the Church gathered for worship and prayer and the Lord spoke a word to those assembled. From that meeting the mission to the Gentile Church was set in motion.  A model for our future gatherings also emerged. The prophetic preceded the practical. One did not exclude the other.  They simply needed to be placed in proper order.

Some of the most significant works of God are about to be done by those people are apart from the input of the industry of ministry experts. These who are willing to hear God and obey Him will step out into places of promise that will be labeled as miraculous and supernatural. You might be one of these people.  The history books of the Church are written about the lives of people like this who stepped out in faith without waiting for an expert’s approval or the consensus of the group.

If you become one of these people, someone who looks and sounds like the believers in the Book of Acts, once God begins to work in your life and ministry, resist the urge to become an expert in anything. You will become the kind of person who will model for the rest of us what it means to walk in the raw and unencumbered power of God.

Monday, March 24, 2014

“The Last Time I Heard Jerry Cook Speak”

For the last 35 years one of the most impacting voices in my life has been Jerry Cook.  Jerry formed the theology of many leaders in the Church. Recently, Jerry went home to be with the Lord.  Just before his death, Jerry wrote the foreword to my book, The Leadership Rock, that contained several stories about Jerry. He left behind so much for so many.  His impact will unfold like a progressive gift for decades to come.

When I last heard Jerry speak it was to a group of pastors in Oregon. The setting was intimate and casual.  Jerry sat upon his iconic stool and shared without notes from the pool of wisdom that refreshed so many of us over the years.  As Jerry spoke, I took notes.  I have included these “one-liners” that Jerry was known for that continue to help adjust our thinking toward a deeper revelation of God and His Kingdom.

Here are those simple, yet profound, words from Jerry:

“We wear masks in fear of the consequence of exposure. Biblical fellowship allows the mask to be removed without fear of rejection.”

“The only atmosphere we can control is the one around us.”

“Don’t create images.  When you get close you will see they are only made of stone.”

“Image is nothing. That is why it is called an image – its fake.”

“When you come and meet with us you are meeting with Him.  He is in us.”

“Be the person you want your church to become.

“I treat all people as people who are on their way to Jesus.  He said, ‘I will draw all people to Myself.’ Don’t make it difficult for people.”

“Why do we focus on behavior? So we can judge another person.”

“Familiarity only breeds contempt if you are contemptible. You breed who you are.”

“Jesus uses our scars to heal people. He used His scars to heal Thomas.”

“Transparency is not knowing everything about me – it is seeing the real me. Jesus didn’t disclose all of Himself to everyone.”

“Public image is created by what people need you to be.”

“The greatest thing a leader can do is to have a right view of God.”

“Our greatest neurosis is guilt towards God. We will use others to fill our deficit to be loved and accepted.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Father’s Wisdom

At my age and length of service in God’s Kingdom, I am now what some people would call a spiritual father. In most gatherings, I am one of the older pastors in the room. As we age, wisdom can increasingly be present and in operation in our lives if we have allowed God access to our hearts along the way in our journey of faith.

A spiritual father should be able to speak words of wisdom, but he should also be able to reveal the heart of God out of which that wisdom was birthed. Understanding God’s heart is what motivates our obedience. Wisdom, without knowing God’s heart, is a limited understanding of wisdom.

For the last month the Lord has been asking me as a spiritual father to join with him to encourage his Church to believe for something new. He began to give me simple sentences of understanding and then a few days later he would reveal his heart behind each of those words. This deeper revelation helped me understand his heart that motivated his wisdom.

I invite you to read these words delivered by two fathers – an imperfect earthly, spiritual father and a perfect and loving Heavenly Father. God wants to encourage us to keep believing and trusting that he is good and has good things planned for his children. Understanding this truth is the foundation of true wisdom.

As you walk in honor, God desires to turn your enemies into allies. Those who have opposed you will now come to your rescue. Honor is the victory.

I am about to do a turnaround.  This turnaround will surprise you because you would never think your enemies could become your allies. This is a time to give honor to those who have betrayed you. Once the honor is given the enemy of your soul that has caused this division will lose his ability to control the outcome.

This will be like the meeting of my sons, Jacob and Esau, years after a great division took place in their relationship. Jacob humbled himself before his offended brother bowing down before him in humility and I did a powerful work of restoration. I have this work of restoration planned for you and those defined as your enemy.

At every point of adversity a door of destiny is opened. The threshold of this door can only be crossed with a humble stride.

There have been places of adversity in your life – places that you now run from.  I am calling you to step with humility into these places of adversity and I will open a supernatural doorway.  This doorway is hidden from prideful eyes. Only the humble will see this doorway and walk across its threshold. Step forward and I will show you what I am about to do.

After difficult discussions and challenging interaction there has been relational debris left behind.  The way forward is found in the debris.

The world collects debris and calls it garbage. I collect debris and transform it into treasure.  There have been painful outcomes in some of your relationships.  What was left behind has been defined as debris.  I am about to change your definitions.

This is the same kind of debris Peter faced when he failed me the night of my betrayal.  Peter thought his future would be navigated around the constant reminder of his failure. I had another plan.

If you are looking for the way forward it will be found in the restoration of those relationships that now look like piles of debris.  The restoration you seek will be found by making right your contribution to the failure in those relationships.  If you do this, I will show you the treasure I see within the debris.

New direction is the result of realignment. Realignment only takes place after an encounter with God. Encounter is the priority, not a new direction.

Your desire for a new direction has replaced your desire for the sound of my voice. Seeking new direction will not bring you peace.  Only my voice brings peace. You are in need of realignment not to a new purpose or direction, but to me. Encounter me as my Church did in Antioch when they waited before me in worship and prayer.  Encounter me and I will reveal to you a new direction.

A word from God loses its impact and becomes diluted when we run it through too many relational or corporate filters before we obey.

Invite people to your obedience. Do not wait for consensus. You have allowed my word to become diluted in your heart.  The filter of man’s opinion has strained out the meat of my word from within you. I have prepared a wonderful meal for you.  Return to the feasting table of fresh revelation.  Put down your fear of failure and your need to have others walk with you in your obedience.  I have not left you alone.  I am the one who will do what I promised.

For real change to take place there must exist both a willingness to let go of the present and a willingness to embrace the future.

You are holding on when you should be letting go. I have promised to lead you to a good place – a place of blessing and purpose. Do not fear the future you define as unknown.  I know this future because I reside there.  It is from that place that I am inviting you to come. Your destiny waits for you in my presence.  Let go.  Come to me and I will welcome you.

When God is moving and someone says, "We need to slow down”, this is fear speaking. Wisdom moves at the speed of revelation.

My wisdom is not limited to the measurements and restrictions of the natural world. When I gave you the word of hope, I gave it knowing it would seem too fast to you.  I was after more than the accomplishment of that word.  I was after that place of fear in your heart that caused you to pull back and ask for things to slow down. Trust me.  Take hold of my promise and move forward with confidence in my faithfulness to perform what I have promised.

If you keep pressing in you will eventually break through.  God honors faithful persistence.

You will move forward in the direction you have chosen to lean.  Lean toward my grace. Press in toward my faithfulness. Tilt your life in the direction of my promise.  This is your act of pressing in.  Even in your failure you will fall in the direction you have chosen to lean. This is how breakthrough will take place in your life. 

I have promised to give you the desires of your heart if you will first delight yourself in me. Your delight in me is your persistence in the middle of opposition.  I will honor your persistence with breakthrough because you have chosen to press in to me.