A note to my friends and blog followers:
This is my first post in a few weeks. I apologize for the long gap. My family has been tied up in a huge spiritual battle and period of unexpected hardship. Our local newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, wrote a story about our situation and ran it on their front page two days ago. If you’re interested in finding out more, here’s a link to the article. I appreciate your patience and prayers. – M.A.
I find it amazing how so many Christians simply cannot properly take – or assign – responsibility for the foul fruit of human failings.
It’s like they think, “So long as we don’t outright kill anyone or steal anything, or get caught breaking any of the other commandments, then everything else we do is irrelevant to the outcome of our actions.”
I’ve seen long-time ministers, who are indeed gifted at teaching the Word, live the most slothful lives and make the most foolish decisions – and then blame God (and/or the “immature” believers around them, who “don’t give enough”) for their poverty. Now, they wouldn’t outright say “it’s God’s fault” in so many words — rather, they seem to believe God is perpetually holding them in a “dry season” to “teach” them something – but it’s the same thing. Yes, God is trying to teach them something, like get off your butt and actually do something productive! The dry season they’re facing is not God’s fault; it’s the inevitable endpoint of the path they’ve chosen.
I’ve seen other long-time ministers form committees, councils, boards or teams of people who are incompetent, shallow, immature, conflicted and/or otherwise not trustworthy – and because they are “good Christians,” the organizer holds to an irrational belief that everything that happens will be “God’s will.” So when the group’s resulting action (or inaction) makes no sense or goes the wrong direction, the minister just follows merrily along, the blind following the blind, with God’s name stenciled on the mess.
The Lord gave me a vision onetime of a Christian farmer in a farmhouse, praying earnestly for a bumper crop of corn. This farmer has the most fertile bottomland in the county, the best equipment in his barn, it’s a wet year, and there is nothing standing between him and a record harvest. But a few weeks after planting time, this farmer’s field is still brown, while his unbelieving neighbor’s field is sporting healthy sprouts.
So the farmer gets on his knees and prays even more. He fasts, digs deeper into the Word, activates the prayer chain at “church,” and resolutely declares the “word of faith” that God is definitely going to give him a huge harvest this year. And yet another month later, when the neighbor’s crop is “knee-high by the Fourth of July” and growing, this farmer’s field is still desolate.
So our farmer pours out his heart to God. He puts a bigger check in the offering plate. The elders of his “church” pour oil on his head and pray over him. His touchy-feely, super-“spiritual” friend helps him dig into his childhood and analyze all the bad things that ever happened to him, seeking the “root of his troubles.” His holy-roller pastor waves his arms and flaps his tongue in a wild prayer of deliverance. But a number of weeks later, while his neighbor rolls out the combine and brings in a bumper crop, our friend’s field yields nothing but weeds and dust.
Finally the Christian farmer, at wits end, lays face down before the Lord, humble and broken. “Why, Lord? Why is it your will that I suffer, while my unbelieving neighbor gets rich?”
The Lord, with grace, yet a touch of frustration, replies, “My son, I gave you the best bottomland in the county, the best farm equipment there is, plenty of rain, and everything you needed to produce a bumper crop. But you didn’t do your part! All you needed to do was plant the seeds I gave you, and I would have made them grow….”
This scenario is more common than we may realize. Even as I write this, I am once again convicted of my own guilt in blaming God for the failures and lack in my own life. It is not His fault! He has given me more than I need, and I alone am to blame for the consequences of my own poor decisions. I pray God helps me see clearly where I’ve mis-stepped, because I know that taking responsibility is a pre-requisite for learning and doing better in the future. When I blame Him or anyone else for my mistakes, I am doomed to repeat them.
Here’s the truth: God gave us the authority and mandate to establish dominion over the world. He freely offers Wisdom and Revelation to guide our steps. He promises provision and direction when we seek and obey His will. And He also gives us free will to do it His way, or not.
We must realize that He didn’t give all this to us so that we may have a free pass on the principles of His creation. Believers are not exempt from reality! Instead, the opposite is true: God established the fundamental principles of creation – scientific, economic, political, business, etc. – and gives us access to His very mind, so that we may master them. He wants his sons and daughters to rise up and take dominion over these things, not cede them to the unbelievers through our own foolishness, ignorance and inaction!
This truth applies to us, wherever we find ourselves. I see everyday believers “blame” God for their unemployment, yet they don’t hustle to find work, don’t present themselves well in interviews, and never took the time to master the skills necessary to be successful in their given field. No, their unemployment is not God’s fault! It is a result of their own bad habits and poorly-chosen path.
I see believers who actually believe their broken marriage is God’s will. Of course, it must be God’s will, and certainly has nothing to do with the fact that they’re lazy, self-centered, worldly, and didn’t put Christ at the center of their relationship!
I see Christian business owners “blame” God for hardship and failure, yet they continually ignore wise counsel, make stupid decision, and do not put a professional face on their endeavors. How is it God’s fault when they go out of business? Just because they’re a “Christian” business doesn’t mean they don’t have to compete in the marketplace!
Sure, there are legitimate “dry spells” and hardships in life. God teaches us through trials and fires. We’re not here to live it up in the here and now, and material outcomes are not necessarily any measure of Godly success. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about all the times that we miss out on God’s desired outcome through our own ignorance, stubbornness, foolishness, laziness, and bad habits – and then, instead of facing the truth, we chalk our failure up to God. I believe this is more widespread than any of us may care to admit.
Where this grips me the most is in “church.” Pews and pulpits today seem filled with folks like the Christian farmer in my little story. We are failing in our God-given mandate to bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven, and we are becoming increasingly mocked and marginalized in the world. At the same time, frauds and phonies are reaping a bumper crop, leading multitudes down the path to destruction.
How can we honestly believe this has nothing to do with the fact that even the most “contemporary” of our “churches” today – compared to The Way modeled in Scripture – are legalistic, ritualistic, materialistic, tradition-bound, shallow, inbred and downright goofy?
Instead of facing the facts and returning to The Way, what is our answer? Redesign the bulletin. Rejigger the order of “service.” Play more modern music. Wear flip-flops on Sunday. That, or double-down on the archaic traditions of our denomination’s founders.
Fact is, we reap what we sow, and we don’t reap what we don’t sow. It’s time we step up and accept responsibility! Churchianity is failing, and yet our “church” leaders continue to inflict us with failing methods – and then blame God for the outcome.
As if claiming that our failure is somehow His fault were not bad enough, now we’ve come up with a pop theology to justify it all. The ultimate insult to our Lord and King, and the pinnacle of the “blame God” mindset, is the modern teaching that global dominion of the Body is not really inevitable, after all, and the best thing we can do is just wait to be rescued. The only one glorified by modern “end times” teaching about the inevitable rise of the antichrist is the antichrist himself! This is not Biblical in the least. Holy cop-out, Batman!
It’s time to grow up, stop blaming God, beg for wisdom, follow His lead, take responsibility for our failings, learn from our mistakes, plant the right seeds, and set our faces like flint towards finally establishing dominion over the world He created for us.
This is His will, and He continually gives us everything we need to do it. If we continue to miss out, it’s not His fault.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
The mission of an organization is what holds it together. Whether written or implicit, the shared understanding of an organization’s purpose is its compass bearing through storms, its flag to rally around in battle, and its scale to weigh decisions.
Healthy, effective organizations articulate their mission in a meaningful, written statement, and they keep a keen eye on this mission statement as they go along. A single-minded focus on advancing this statement guides all of their plans, expenses and activities, and leads them to prune anything that distracts or detracts from it.
Unhealthy, ineffective organizations have missions, too, but they’re generally unwritten, even unspoken. Sure, they do usually have a written mission statement. Problem is, that’s not the mission they follow. The written mission statement of an unhealthy organization is nothing more than words on paper, often a remnant of the self-deluded dream of a long-ago leader or committee.
Instead, unhealthy, ineffective organizations follow unwritten, implicit mission statements, which are often centered on traditions, bad habits, and self-interest. If you’ve been involved in many organizations, and you stop to think about it, you’ll understand what I’m saying.
Let me give an example. I recall a skeet shooting club that I became familiar with awhile back. It had been founded a generation before for the purpose of promoting the shooting sports to the community. Over time, however, the membership’s self-interest had taken over, and by the time I encountered the group, it clearly existed for the sole purpose of catering to the desires of the existing members. They did nothing to promote shooting sports to the community, and they didn’t even consider membership applications from “outsiders.” Sure, they had a grand, lofty mission statement. I’m sure they felt good reading it. But it was worthless! None of them would have admitted it, but the real mission statement was, “To provide a comfortable shooting environment for our existing membership at the lowest possible cost.”
How can you tell the real mission of an organization? Simple: “By their fruits you shall know them.” The real mission an organization follows is like its DNA, the seed from which it grows. You can paint an apple seed orange, put it in a package that says “orange seeds,” and convince yourself and others that you are going to grow a great orange tree. It doesn’t matter one bit: If you plant it, it’s going to grow an apple tree. We reap what we sow. There’s no escaping reality: The real way an organization spends its money and time, and the real outputs it produces, are an accurate reflection of its real mission. If these things don’t line up well with its printed mission statement, then you know it’s following an unwritten one instead.
I say all this to ask a question: What is the real mission of your local “church”?
I’m not asking what its written mission statement says. If it’s like just about all the others on the face of the earth, its written mission statement probably looks great on paper, and you feel good quoting it – and it says something about reaching the lost, impacting the community, building up the members, fulfilling the Great Commission, etc., etc.
And also, if it’s like just about all the others on the face of the earth, its real mission is far from this. If your “church council” were able to step back and re-write it honestly – looking objectively at the real way it spends its money and time, and the real outputs it produces – it’d probably be closer to this:
“Our mission is to fund our clergy and staff salaries, build and expand the facilities we dedicate to Sunday morning activities, put on a good Sunday show, make our members as comfortable as possible while they’re here, make sure all our committee positions are occupied with anyone who will take the job, fill the offering plates, expand our membership, and (if we have anything left over) throw some scraps at ‘missions.’”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is pretty much the unwritten mission statement of most “churches” today, as it’s their primary fruit. These activities take up more than 90% of the money given to advance the “mission,” and are considered the de-facto pre-requisites that must be satisfied before anything else gets done.
If my saying this rubs you the wrong way, let me challenge you to a simple exercise: First, find out your “church” mission statement (the official, printed one), its annual budget, and its existing base of assets. Then, starting from scratch, put together a strategic plan to employ those resources to advance the mission as effectively as possible. When I say starting from scratch, I mean anything goes – you don’t have to spend a penny of your money or a second of your time to maintain any ceremonial gatherings, or designated “clergy” salaries, or committee structures, or anything else, if these things do not line up directly with maximizing mission impact.
If you had this mandate, would you really build a big building and equip it with state-of-the-art multimedia equipment, etc., only to use it a few hours a week, and mainly for people who already are “believers”? Would you really bother holding any of the weekly Sunday shows we call “church services”? Truly, if you were seeking to advance the mission statement of your “church,” would you do anything at all that we call “church” today? Probably very little of it, if any.
While some small part of our grand, printed mission statements may be achieved through these efforts, are these things really the most efficient and effective way? Let’s be honest here: There’s no way.
We have a fine way of rendering our written mission statements meaningless for the sake of our traditions.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I’ve written a fair amount lately about two issues that plague our current way of practicing “churchianity.” Today’s revelation brings the two together.
One issue is that, contrary to clear Biblical example, we build and solidify organizational structures around our ministry efforts. Most people can’t seem to separate the ideas of “church” or “ministry” from the ideas of “organizational structure,” “administration” and “facilities.” In fact, in the eyes of most, a “church” or “ministry” simply cannot exist separate from these things; it is the organizational structure, administration and facilities that make the church or ministry.
Contrary to this notion, the Biblical example of God-pleasing leadership was modeled by the Old Testament judges and New Testament apostles. Yes, they did great things and big works. But they did not seek to build an earthly entity around their work. Instead, 100% of their focus was on building faith, character and relationships in the people around them. When God called them elsewhere, all they left behind was edified people and a growing Body of Christ – and no organizational charts, bylaws or buildings.
The other issue that I’ve written some about lately is that those within churchianity today are not prone to accept those who hold true Spiritual authority. The “church” culture generally only accepts the “authority” of those who have been to seminary, and/or who are “ordained,” and/or who hold titles such as “pastor” or “bishop.” Authority is given to these people regardless of whether they possess any true Spiritual seasoning.
In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul made very clear God’s desired authority structure in the Body, “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.”
Just yesterday I discussed this with the president of a church board. “So, who provides apostolic and prophetic covering over your congregation?” I asked. He hemmed and hawed a bit, and then pointed out that 1) In the King James Version the word “administrations” is translated as “governments” – and that in his opinion the ranking of these positions is irrelevant. So, they choose to put the “government” on top. And 2) They choose to bypass the apostolic and prophetic covering and “connect (their) church government directly to God.”
What he articulated, in so many words, is precisely the heart of the issue: They value their organizational structure and bylaws over true Spiritual authority. In fact, true Spiritual authority is a threat to their enterprise. This is understandable, but it’s not right.
The office of apostle or prophet is not one that is conferred by a college degree, man-made “ordination,” committee decision or popular vote. It is not a position in an organizational chart, and it is unrelated to administrative ability. Instead, it is a difficult calling and lifetime pursuit, and comes at an exceptionally high personal price. True Spiritual authority comes through passionate pursuit of Biblical knowledge, combined with equal amounts of personal revelation and front-lines experience in selfless service, spiritual warfare and authentic miracles. Those who have grown in true Spiritual authority walk in close fellowship with the Almighty, and have abundant fruit – and scars – to show for it.
And, they don’t fit in well in most “churches.” Here’s why:
Say a man feels called to start a Holy work. It could be any form of “ministry” but for the sake of this example let’s just call it a local “church.” So, this fellow works hard to knock on doors, meet people, hold Sunday “services” and other “church” activities, etc. Over time, he assembles a congregation. He sows into their lives, and at the same time he works to solidify the organization by establishing a legal entity, bylaws, board of directors, budget, etc. This “church” grows and eventually builds a building, hires a staff, and establishes various committees and programs. Sound familiar? (You could take this to another level and say that this entity eventually launches other affiliate “churches,” and maybe even grows into a denomination, but we won’t go there.)
This man may well be a great fellow. He may well know the Word, have a seminary degree and be ordained. And no doubt, he’s a great “leader” and administrator. He is the top of the organizational chart, and regardless of whatever lip service he pays to it being “God’s house,” fact is the responsibility for the guidance of the “flock” and the enterprise they’ve built lies squarely on his shoulders. The buck stops with him. The reality is, however, that this authority is positional; he may well not have any true Spiritual authority – the only kind God recognizes, and desires in His leaders.
Now, say a man comes along who is a true apostle or prophet of God. And say this man with true Spiritual authority is assigned by God to speak a word that contradicts the “vision” of this pastor, or that seems to undermine his positional authority, or (heaven forbid) rebukes him. Would this man be considered an ally or a threat? A uniter or divider? If you sincerely believe that he’d be embraced as a uniting ally by the pastor, “church” government or rank-and-file congregant, you’re smoking bath salts.
This rejection of true Spiritual authority becomes even worse when the person holding the positional authority is several steps removed from the original workman. As in, the founder retires and the “church” selects his replacement. I’ve seen this countless times – it’s de-facto in churchianity – and it’s generally done through either popular vote or behind-the-scenes politics. Charm, public speaking ability and administrative skills – of course, with a seminary diploma and ordination certificate – are the universal standards by which candidates are judged.
Whether he is the founder or one who inherited the position, the holder of positional authority is generally most concerned with the preservation and growth of the enterprise, his paycheck, and his positional authority. He will by necessity feel threatened by someone who walks in true Spiritual authority – who is no respecter of man-made institutions, or of any “positional authority” in the “church.”
And he will seek, ultimately, to crucify the man who comes and says, “Tear down this temple, and I’ll rebuild it in three days.” Because in the eyes of the pastor, that’s a threat to his enterprise and livelihood. But in the eyes of the apostle, it’s a statement that the building and organizational structure is worthless, and the real edifice behind it – that is, the spiritual maturity of the people – is so lacking that it could indeed be recreated in three days. The gulf between these two is too wide, and seemingly too threatening, for most pastors to cross.
This is why we have a churchianity culture that, by and large, rejects the notion of true Spiritual authority, and that fails to recognize the offices of apostle and prophet today. And it is why our faith is increasingly marginalized and mocked today: We just don’t get it.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I am convinced that a person can only grow as much as the grace they’re given. We lock people in boxes of expectations based on recollections of past mistakes. The greatest gift you can give a person, the greatest way you can serve them, is to give them grace and expect them to grow. This is what God gave us in Christ, and what we are to give each other. Grace gives everyone a fresh start, allows them to hit “reset” in their lives, and helps them become the new, improved person they hope to be.
Grace compels us to take a person we love at face value. Of course, trust is a different thing; it must be earned. But even so, grace takes risks to allow them to earn it! Grace erases the negatives in the trust account, and allows them to start fresh, every single time they slip. Under grace, every day is a new day.
The Bible says that God is working to make us perfect; we won’t get there in this life, but we get closer every day if we let Him lead the way. Grace compels us to realize that our brother is NOT the same person you used to know; he is a work in progress, and progress is being made! He is more perfect than he was yesterday! Grace recognizes this, and says, “what the heck, I’ll give it a shot!”
Grace doesn’t seek to save face. Instead, it recognizes that we ourselves are being made perfect, each and every day. I am a better person than I was yesterday. I made mistakes and hurt people I love. I admit and repent of those things; I don’t make excuses for them. Please, don’t lock me down with the expectation that I will repeat those those bad things today; your grace will set me free to grow.
It really isn’t rocket science. Heck, the HARD thing is to keep track of all the details of who did what to whom. Keeping accounts of who needs to apologize for what, laying blame, and trying to remember “why was I mad at her to begin with?” will do nothing but tie you up in knots. That’s the trap of the enemy. Forgiving, accepting personal responsibility, hitting “reset,” starting over, giving grace – while it’s not natural in our flesh – is actually the easiest thing to do. It allows us to keep a clear mind, a clean slate, and a light load.
With grace, every day is an adventure, full of pleasant surprises. Sure, we’ll hit some rocks in the road, but when we don’t stop to pick them up, they’re just minor bumps on an otherwise peaceful drive.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
(Or, “Pyramids Were Built by Slaves and Vain Dictators”)
John 6:15 “Therefore, when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force and make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.”
Oh, for Christian leaders today who truly seek to follow Christ’s example!
I have a unique calling and life experience. I am an entrepreneur, a founder, a builder. God has gifted, educated, trained and used me to start and help start numerous organizations – business, political and ministry. By His grace, most are still going strong today. Sadly, many are going strong in a different direction than I intended, but that is the nature of learning in the real world; it’s trial and error. Just as this life is nothing more than preparation for the next, so also, I’ve found, each venture is merely a rough draft for the one to follow. I cannot kick myself and live a life of regret; rather, I must simply live and learn.
Proverbs tells us that understanding is more valuable than riches, and we should seek it passionately, and I do. I’ve learned quite a bit about leadership and organization building – some the “easy way” but mostly the “hard way.” I’ve made quite a few mistakes and will continue to do so. My prayer is that my future mistakes will be new and creative, and not repeats of ones past.
The heart of any organization is the core vision that manifests in its fundamental operating culture. If an organization is a living entity, this core vision is its DNA. I’m not talking about the printed “vision statement” or “mission statement.” What I’m talking about is the underlying “operating software” that was running in the founder’s mind before the vision or mission statements were written. I’m talking about the heartbeat of the founding leader; the kernel of inspiration and understanding that drove him to initiate the undertaking. This is the zygote – the first complete cell at conception – that divides, multiplies and specializes over time to form the living organization for the duration of its lifespan. For good or ill, everything that manifests in a venture will be guided by this inception.
Biblically, this is reflected in John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Logos…” This Greek word denotes foundational truth, fundamental vision. Jesus, it says, was the Logos made flesh, and that the whole world was created from God’s Logos. Later, in what we call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said a wise man builds his house upon the rock, and explains this rock is the Logos of God.
An oak tree is not contained in an acorn. To claim otherwise, as some pseudo philosophers have, is absurd. An acorn weighs a fraction of an ounce, while a mature oak weighs many tons! What is contained in the acorn is simply the DNA of the oak tree – the tree’s Logos, if you will – that re-organizes the elements in its environment into a living, growing thing.
Modern science has traced many crippling, deforming, and deadly diseases to simple, infinitesimally small molecular mutations in the single strand of DNA found in the original, single-celled zygote from which a new life grows in its mother’s womb. Similarly, seemingly simple, insignificant flaws in the founding Logos of a venture will eventually, over time, manifest in ways we cannot control or take back. Even a smidgen of well-intentioned misunderstanding in the mind of a leader can quickly manifest and grow beyond his control. If you doubt me, just ask Dr. Frankenstein.
As a founder and leader, this understanding has compelled me to hunger and thirst for a pure heart above all else. I pray for God to continue to perform open heart surgery on me, to purify me, to search my heart and show me what He finds. I want nothing more than for my words and actions to reflect His Logos, with nothing added or taken away. I do not wish to lean on my own understanding, or to be conformed to the patterns of this world, or to give any foothold to the enemy. I endeavor to live as Paul wrote: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” I realize that in this life, I am being made perfect, and will not achieve that final goal until He allows me to pass through to the next life – and so the things I build will not be perfect, either – but it is what I strive for. I want the things I build to stand the test of time, as an accurate manifestation of His Kingdom. This is my passion.
Okay, that’s a big build up for a simple lesson. But it’s important to know that sometimes the simplest lessons are the most vital, and this particular lesson strikes at the very heart of organizational DNA. For too long, too many well-intentioned Christian leaders have suffered from a simple “genetic mutation” in this area, and as a result we’ve created too many Frankenstein’s monsters and called them “the Body of Christ.” Fixing this will change everything.
Here it is: Properly practiced, the goal of a spiritual father is not to raise spiritual sons. It is to raise other spiritual fathers.
Properly practiced, discipleship does NOT follow a traditional, top-down, pyramid-style organizational structure. It is NOT like “network marketing” with an “up-line” and “down-line.” Properly practiced, I do not disciple others in a way that requires them to remain beneath me … and then the ones they disciple remain beneath them, and so on.
Properly practiced, there is only one “up-line” – and that is each individual’s personal connection to God through the Holy Spirit.
The goal of a true spiritual father is to help each person connect directly to THE Father … and then step out of the way and let Him take it from there. Once this connection is made, a true spiritual father’s job is to serve and not be served; to decrease so that the Body of Christ may increase.
When I build according to the traditional pyramid structure that forms the basis of virtually every modern ministry, yes, the enemy can “reward” me with ever-growing influence and affluence. This is how I can build a big “church” and become rich, powerful and famous. But this is not God’s desire or design. Pyramids were built by slaves and vain dictators, and they still are today.
Properly practiced, I desire those whom I disciple to advance beyond me; I desire for them to have more influence than I have. Properly practiced, the more people I disciple, and then, in turn, the more they disciple, the lower I become, because that is more people I am committed to serving – and not the other way around.
Properly practiced, it is the ministry leader’s job “to equip the saints for the works of ministry, for the building up of the Body.” Despite what the man behind the offering plate says, it is not the other way around; it is NOT the saints’ job to equip ministry leaders!
The Apostle Paul said that, while in human understanding he was “entitled” to be supported by the people he served, he intentionally worked very hard to avoid being any burden on them. He did NOT want them to support or equip him; rather, he poured out his life to equip and support them. His tent-making was not drudgery or distraction, it was his example and greatest honor. My God, where are leaders like this today?
Jesus led by leaving. He was a spiritual father who raised up other spiritual fathers – by serving them, by washing their feet! — then He left them to do likewise, and He praised God that they would do greater works than He had done. Paul did the exact same thing. He raised up leaders – spiritual fathers – and then left them to raise up others. And when one or another gained too much prominence in one community, Paul would relocate them to another community to start over.
The pyramid-style organizational structure was hateful to Jesus and Paul, and they refused to allow it to form under their leadership. When the crowds wanted to make Jesus the king, or when they wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods, these true spiritual fathers fled the scene. Would your “spiritual father” similarly run from this? If not, then you should run away from him!
The insolent Israelites demanded a man-king, and look where that got them. No man is designed to occupy the top spot in a spiritual pyramid structure. The man-made expectations and obligations are too heavy, and the damage he can cause when he invariably stumbles is too great.
The flesh of every leader desires to be at the top of the pyramid – to be adored, admired, followed, and famous. The flesh of every leader seeks to capitalize on earthly honor and “entitlement.”
And the flesh of every follower craves a strong man to follow, so we can outsource our “religious” obligations to the designated holy man. The flesh of every follower thinks it’s easier to give money and loyalty to a man than it is to fight on the frontline.
But if we are to be people after God’s own heart, we must crucify our flesh!
We must tear down the pyramids! They are nothing more than monuments to man’s flesh and failure.
God’s desire is that each and every one of us be led by His Spirit, and His Spirit alone. As the founding fathers of America famously said, we must accept “No King but Jesus, and no Father but God.” There is no room for any pyramid, or “up-line,” or hierarchy in that correct understanding.
There is only one line in the organizational chart of the Kingdom of God, and that is a direct connection between me and God. It is the same for each of us.
Fathers, seek to raise up fathers! Push them out of the nest so they can fly on their own! Serve them! Wash their feet! Let them live and learn! Seek to be the least, and abandon your worldly sense of “entitlement!” Be driven by the passionate desire for them to accomplish more than you ever imagined!
When we build this understanding into the DNA of our endeavors, we will finally see God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” Romans 8:14
“I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you have ten thousand instructors (Greek – “babysitters”) in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers…” 1 Corinthians 4:14-15
“But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you all things, and is true.” 1 John 2:27
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
Note: Several years ago I took a one-week personal sabbatical and retreated to a cabin in the remote South Texas countryside. I had no idea what God planned for me during that time, and was ready to do anything He asked of me — even nothing. I was hoping for some time to catch up on sleep, yet God had other plans.
Almost the very moment I walked in the door of the cabin, the words started coming. I pulled out my laptop and started writing. (Actually, it felt more like taking dictation!) By the end of the first day, I had typed nearly 50,000 words! At the end of the week, I had completed a manuscript, which I entitled Living God. (Funny, I felt more refreshed at the end of the week than if I’d slept the whole time.)
I showed the manuscript around to a handful of close friends, one of whom is a successful writer, and while everyone encouraged me to publish it, I never felt a release from God to do so. He just kept saying, “Somday, but not now.” As I went forward, it became clear I was supposed to first publish UPRISING. And so, Living God has remained on my hard driving, collecting proverbial dust.
Just recently, the Lord prompted me to pull it back up and start working on it again. I’ve learned much since that week in South Texas, which I must incorporate. Also, I didn’t put in any proper attribution or references as I wrote it. Taken as a whole, the revision/editing process has loomed as a daunting task. Then the idea dawned on me to pull it out, one chapter at a time, and serialize it here on this blog, chewing the elephant one bite at a time.
I pray it blesses you.
It’s all about the fruit
We are all made in the image of God. From the poet to the diesel mechanic, from the primitive jungle dweller to the president, from the truck driver to the symphony conductor, and everyone else – male and female, rich and poor, intellectual and ignorant – we are all bearers of His likeness. We hold this image in jars of clay, each one fragile, cracked and incomplete.
His majesty is greater than any one of us can contain; we can each only bear a miniscule fraction. Like a drop of water, which is indeed completely H2O and has all the properties thereof, the image of God we carry is fully God. But it is not God in full. God is like the ocean, we carry but a drop. Only Jesus Christ was, could be, and is all in all. He came and lived among us to make God manifest; to prove that a being who is fully human could fully carry the image of God.
Driving through the countryside in America’s Old South, one can’t help but notice the sprawling vine known as kudzu. It is a non-native plant that is taking over, covering literally everything in its path. Left unchecked, it will cover forests, trees, farms … anything. What is incredible to think is that, while kudzu is not from America, everything that constitutes that aggressive and ubiquitous plant really has been there all along, in the soil, water and sunlight of the South. Nothing is there that wasn’t already there. Not one cell, fiber or nutrient was imported into the state. Nothing, that is, but the DNA contained in one single seed. That seed, planted into rich the Southern soil, slowly but surely is re-organizing its environment into a living thing that is taking over the state.
Just like it took only one seed of kudzu to take over the South, it takes only one kernel to produce a full crop of corn. Plant it, and it will grow into hundreds. Plant those, and they will become tens of thousands. Plant them; millions. Plant them … and from one seed you can feed the world.
Jesus came as the seed of God. I believe that, just like one seed becomes many, we who believe are implanted with a piece of Him. We are the many who came from the One. Our hearts are soil carrying a seed of Christ. Yet the seed in each of us is but a small part of the whole of God. Yes, it is fully God, like the drop of water is fully water. But the seed in each of us is not the fullness of God; the fullness of God can only become manifest on earth through the Body of Christ. The first coming was a body of one. The second coming will be when He returns as the Head of a Body of many. He come again after the growth and knitting together of each individual believer into a unified whole. (See Ephesians 4:11-16)
The DNA in your fingertip is the same as the DNA in your eyelash. Exactly the same. Leave a fleck of skin off your finger or one eyelash at a crime scene, and they will know it came from you, because the DNA is fully you. But it is not the fullness of you. I marvel that even though the information in each cell of our body is identical, the fact is each cell is unique. Cut off the tip of your finger and a fingertip grows back; each cell just slightly different from the other so that the end of your finger completes itself. Lose an eyelash and an eyelash grows back, just slightly different in form and purpose than the eyelash next to it. How does each cell know where it belongs if the DNA is the same? Only by the design of God.
Just like this, the seed of God that is in us, the DNA of Christ, is implanted not so that each of us can grow into little autonomous Christs, but so each of us can grow into our own unique part of His Body, each with a purpose, each with a place, each a little bit different from the next, so that, when we all reach maturity and join in unity, the Body of Christ will be complete. And when the Body of Christ is complete, that will usher in His second coming. He came originally as God in full, in the form of one man. He will come again, as God in full, as the head of a body comprised of many men and women. And then His fullness will cover the earth.
Understanding it this way, our purpose in this life becomes clear: Our job as believers is first and foremost to cultivate the Christ in us, so that ultimately He’s the only thing people see when they look at us. Then second we are to help plant and cultivate that seed in others, so that He lives fully through them, too. And third, we are to knit each cell of His body together through Koinoneia, which is the deep, intimate, loving, Christ-centered fellowship of believers. That is our job, and it is in concept really quite simple. Of course, it is also the most difficult thing we can do; it is the grand fight and struggle of this age.
When a seed grows in good soil and with proper care, at maturity it becomes a plant that produces fruit. Fruit is nothing more than a seed or seeds surrounded by the nourishment it needs to begin its own new life. From this perspective, our job is to be fruitful: to grow ourselves into healthy maturity, so that through our existence, our species – in our case, Christ – expands and grows exponentially with each successive generation, in the same way that one acorn can over time become a forest of oaks.
Each one of us has been implanted with a seed of Christ. That seed is indeed fully the image of God, but it is not God in full; it’s just a piece of Him with a specific purpose and destiny. We are all called in general to be fruitful; more than called, we are required – the tree that does not produce fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire! But the fruit of each of us will not all be identical. Those of us who are fingertips will multiply similarly, for example. All good fruit will carry God’s likeness, but only a piece of His likeness. In this regards, the Kingdom of God is sort of like a fruit salad – we all produce fruit, and all fruit comes together as one. Or better yet, the Body of Christ is like a living garden containing all kinds of fruit bearing plants. (Sound familiar? That’s how Eden was described.)
Finding our calling specifically means knowing who we are. For me to know who I am is for me to know my specific purpose, what kind of fruit I am to produce, my purpose and my destiny. Your unique identity in Christ IS your calling.
Metaphorically, the Kingdom of God is like a kudzu plant. Starting with the DNA of Christ that was planted in the grave and grew into new life, drawing off of the nutrients that God placed in the earth and in our hearts, and re-organizing everything for His purposes, He will eventually take over all that is seen and known.
Analyzed in detail, He is in actually one vine with many branches, each one unique.
Looked at even closer, each branch produces and multiplies slightly different fruit, so that piece by piece we may comprise the fullness of Christ.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
Why are you a Christian? What do you “sell” when you attempt to share your religion with others (if you ever do)?
Think of it from the other guy’s perspective. This, I would venture to say, is what many people are thinking when subjected to most “evangelism” methods offered by most “Christians” today:
If all you’re offering me is heaven when I die, then I don’t want it. Why would I want to give my life to a faith that makes me wait till I’m dead to find out whether I’m right or wrong? I can get that “promise” of a better afterlife from just about any other religion on earth. Heck, those Muslims will blow themselves up for it, they believe it so much. Why is your promise of heaven better than theirs?
Oh, so you’re throwing in a holy book, stories of long-ago leaders, and a professional holy man to help me live a “better” life? No, I think I’ll pass. Again, I can get those things anywhere. In fact, quite a few other religions have more credible holy men than you. Don’t your “clergy” get caught with their pants down, or their hand in the cookie jar, all the time? Forget about it. At least those other faiths have some discipline in their ranks!
It’s more than that? So you’re upping the offer with a “house of worship,” a community of like-minded (whatever that means!) people, songs to sing, and a weekly ritual gathering? Well, I can see that you all put on quite a show — fancy mood lights, good quality music, and that speaker guy can sure be motivational. But I think I’ll keep my Sunday mornings for football. Anyway, what religion doesn’t have holy buildings, communities, ceremonies and such? And somebody’s gotta pay for the fancy facilities and the razzle-dazzle show you put on … and I know what’s next: You’ll be trying to tell me your god wants me to help pay for it all, so we can keep the show going. No thanks.
Ok, NOW you’re getting “spiritual” on me. So I can “pray” and spill my guts to some helpline in the sky. And then there’s your “suggested” code of ethics. “Suggested,” I say, because the other “Christians” I know sure as heck don’t follow it! I see quite a few of the folks from your “church” at the liquor store, strip clubs, R-rated movies, divorce courts, etc. The only difference I see is that your religion makes them feel guilty about it all. And that “prayer” thing — you folks have nothing on the Muslims you bash so much. Those folks have the prayer thing down!
No, if you’re just offering me heaven when I die, a holy book with curious historical figures and wise saying, a place of worship, a holy man to lead the way, a weekly ceremony or “show,” a community of folks who share the same whatever you call it, an avenue for prayer, and guilt-inspiring rules for living, I don’t want it! EVERY OTHER “religion” on earth offers the same stuff — and they all point fingers at each other and say they’re wrong. Heck, even you “Christians” can’t agree. There are, what, hundreds of “churches” in my town, and NONE of them seem to do it the same way, or agree on even the most fundamental things. And you want me to pick YOURS? Gimme a break.
To heck with that! Now please, don’t knock on my door again. In fact, you know what my friend? I’ll “pray” for YOU — that you open your eyes and see that if that’s all there is to your religion, you’re WASTING YOUR TIME and THROWING AWAY YOUR LIFE.
You can get real friends from the Rotary Club or Masons, and they do a lot more good works in the community than you guys! Their gatherings are just as meaningful as a yours, and they’re not all always criticizing each other, making each other feel guilty, gossipping, putting on a false front, or asking for money! You can get that spine-tingly feeling from good music at any old concert, and heck, once you pay for your ticket there, they don’t keep trying to guilt you into giving more! You can hear MUCH better motivational speakers at a sales conference, or just buy a DVD set off an infomercial! Any professional association or community group will have a good code of ethics, and why limit yourself to one holy book, when you can have them all? I find meditation is just the same as what you call “prayer” … and that heaven thing? You know, if there is a god, I think he’ll see that I’ve lived a pretty good life, and that’s good enough for me. I sure live cleaner and more generously than most of your fellow “Christians” that I know!
So take your tracts, your oh-so-predictable “evangelism” methods, and your fake smiles – AND STOP trying to GUILT me into thinking I’m a scumbag that your god hates unless I subscribe to your religion – and leave me the heck alone!!
So if the promise of heaven, membership in “church,” and all the trappings of the Christian “religion” don’t cut the mustard, then what IS there?
(link to Part Two: http://wp.me/p1XBI6-5P)
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
It’s good to pay close attention to the metaphors God chooses. God’s Word is always deep and multifaceted, and word associations He uses aren’t thrown into Scripture simply out of artistic license. When He says, for example, “Consider the ant…” in Proverbs, we really should. Fact is, He made ants (and everything else) and gave them the the traits they have, to serve as an expression of Himself and His truth. We can know Him, ourselves, and our plight more deeply if we study these things in depth.
One God-given metaphor that’s been in my mind lately is where He says that He’s raising us to be “oaks of righteousness.” This metaphor is jam-packed with meaning, and today I’m going to dig into just one facet of it.
When you cut down a tree and look inside, we all know that you’ll find it contains ring after ring of growth. Look closely at these rings, and you’ll see they alternate between thicker, lighter-colored rings and thinner, darker colored ones.
A while back, I studied how to make a bow (as in archery) out of a single piece of wood. For a bow, it’s not the shape that matters so much as it is being mindful of the growth rings. Whittle a stiff piece of wood to the shape of a bow and ignore the rings, put a string on it, and pull it back, and it’ll most likely snap in two. However, if you shave it down according to the internal ring structure, so that the face of the bow is one contiguous ring (one of the thin, dark ones specifically) from tip to tip, you can flex it all you want and it won’t break. That’s because the dense growth rings are strongest part of a tree.
You see, the growth rings in a tree reflect the changing seasons. When external conditions are seemingly ideal, and the tree shows all the outward signs of life, this is when the thick, weak rings are formed. The thin, strong rings grow during the harsh, dry seasons. While it may seem on the outside that the tree is dormant or dead, it is in reality gaining the inner strength it needs to withstand the greatest stress and fiercest storms.
Oaks grow slowly, and strong. And, according to His Word, God is growing us the same way.
When we understand this, and start seeing our lives from God’s perspective, it is easier to rejoice when we face harsh, dry seasons. During our Christian walk, we all face them; it’s part of God’s plan. God is growing strong, seasoned sons and daugthers to inherit His Kingdom!
I wrote the following bit a many years ago during a dry spell, and just stumbled across it yesterday. Somehow it seemed particularly relevant to the season many of us are in right now. I hope it blesses you.
LESSONS FOR THE LEAN TIMES
Quoting the Bible is easy, especially when you’re giving advice to others. Even quoting it to yourself can be easy. Now living it … well, that can be another story entirely, right?
I mean, when Jesus said, “Don’t worry about what you’re going to eat, drink or wear … Don’t worry about tomorrow…,” He didn’t really mean for us to literally not worry about these things, did He? Was He really speaking to me, as the head of my household, with a mortgage, car payments, insurance, etc.? Does He really expect us to do this, even in a down economy?
My friends, the answer to each of these is simple: Yes.
God is real and His promises are true. No matter how complicated our economic system. No matter who we are, or where we are, or how much we make (or used to make!).
The Lord has blessed me by leading me through some very difficult times. Yes, I said blessed! Blessed because, as the Bible says, it’s through trials that He builds our faith, and through fire that He purifies us. I personally desire greater faith and purity much more than I desire a bigger TV or house. Not that they always conflict, but if I had to choose, I’d pick a closer walk with Him over material things any day. Wouldn’t you?
I also consider it a blessing to go through tough times because later it allows me the opportunity to help others who are going through the same types of challenges. If someone can stand on my shoulders, and not have to go to the depths I’ve had to go, I’d consider my hardships to be worthwhile.
Right now I know many folks are facing some tough challenges, and I’d like to encourage you to seek God through it all. This is a wonderful opportunity to grow in faith and purity!
Here are some keys I’ve found for thriving in the lean times:
Rejoice! This is an opportunity to learn and grow. God cares about YOU, not about your things! Let your heightened sense of awareness drive you to His word and to prayer. When you pray, remember His divine guidance and provision are already yours for the taking! He promises them to you in full — you just have to do your part: 1) Trust in Him with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding, 2) Seek first His kingdom and righteousness. Don’t keep begging Him for what’s already yours — instead, thank Him … and then do your part!
Focus on righteousness. Only obsess about the things that you can control. When you can’t sleep and are tempted to worry, turn it around and instead ask the Lord to show you areas in your life where you can be more obedient and righteous, where you can better reflect Him. Make good use of those restless nights!
Find the tightrope. We’re supposed to be on the narrow path anyways, right? It can be easy to stray in fat times when the tightrope is laying on the ground and we have the latitude to wander any which way. Now that times are lean, the ground has pulled away and there’s no safety net, let it force you back to the narrow path. Be obsessed with fully honoring God with every step; every thought, word and action. Commit to staying on it when things get “better.” And when you can’t see very far ahead and your chest gets tight, just focus on the very next step, even if it’s just inhale, then exhale, then inhale…. God will get you through it!
Honor the landowner. In many years of taking boys hunting and fishing through the youth ministry I founded, we developed clear-cut rules for relating to landowners: Get to know them, maniacally follow their rules, and leave the place better than you found it. It’s easy to think the things we have are “ours.” But the Bible says otherwise: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything that’s in it.” Start treating God like the landowner He is. The stuff you have (and/or had) isn’t yours! Remember the words to the old hymn, “I am but a stranger here, Heaven is my home.” Get to know the Landowner! Follow His rules! Leave the place better than you found it, every single day! And don’t be surprised if and when He trusts you with more keys to open more gates!
Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. There was wisdom in that old Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler. If God has given you something to do, do it, regardless of what you see or understand. If you play your chips, when times are high you’ll be careless and wasteful, and when times are low you’ll miss out on all the key opportunities. You can’t lose when you set your eyes on things above, and walk accordingly!
Playing chicken. So you’re staring the monster in the teeth, running headlong into some scary stuff? Great! Time to learn to walk by faith and not by sight. Either all we hear and sing about in church is true or it’s not. This is your chance to see exactly what God is made of. Don’t blink, don’t swerve and don’t panic — stay on the narrow path as He leads you, and run the race with endurance! This may be the best opportunity of your life to find what’s meaningful and true! My experience is, the whole world will swerve to avoid crashing into a man of God.
Count the cost. Jesus said we should count the cost of following Him. What if He were to require you to give up all your earthly possessions so that you could remain in a personal relationship with Him? It’s not without precedent! You don’t know God’s plan: These “tough times” may be permanent. You must ask yourself, will you be truly content with simply being in His will? And learn to celebrate, not resent, others’ good fortune.
Focus on fruit. Someday we’ll all stand before the Lord and He’ll ask, “Where’s the fruit?” (I’m reminded of that old woman in the Wendy’s commercial … “Where’s the beef?!”) He gives us time, talents and treasure in this world for one primary purpose: To produce fruit that pleases Him. Have you been doing this? One thing is certain, even if you have less today than yesterday, you can. Be faithful with the little that you do have today! Keep planting seeds and working the soil, and be efficient and effective at it. Then He just may give you more.
Learn all you can! Keep asking the Lord, “What more can I learn through this?” That’s another prayer He’ll always answer!
Be transparent. Don’t act like things are rocking and rolling if they’re not. In being open, honest and humble, you may finally learn what the Body of Christ is all about! Don’t be ashamed — accept help from those the Lord brings your way.
Keep smiling. God is still in control! He still has cattle on a thousand hills! Don’t let others get you down. They’ll try! Remember Job’s source of hope: “I know that my Redeemer lives!”
Take notes. That’s what I did, and now I might just be helping others. Plan to do the same! Be a living monument to the Lord to remind the world of His mighty power!