Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Passion Play

My Beloved Sister In Christ,

I want to tell you that I am soon to be writing on the "manifestation" of the reign (or kingdom) of God.  Jesus said the Kingdom of God is in your midst and the Kingdom (or reign) of God is in you.  I want to share two unique tangible /  visible representations of the manifestation of Christs reign on the earth through extensions of his life, i.e. through the actions of two appendages.  

The first is a young lady named Grace (You), who puts her life on hold to come down to serve my suffering friend and his wife. She comes simply to demonstrate the love of God by cooking, cleaning, changing dressings, house keeping, chauffeuring  gophering, helps and in countless selfless acts of love.  I watch from afar and I am moved as I see a powerful visible manifestation of Christ on earth demonstrating his selfless love and service through you.  That is the Kingdom or Reign of God on the earth as it is in heaven.  As the old hymn goes, "Heaven came down and glory filled my soul."  Observing the divine passion play before my eyes, I am moved to glorify God for such love and devotion.

Second is the suffering selfless servant named Charity, his wife.  Putting her life, her needs, and even her emotions on hold, she kneels down washes, massages, anoints and kisses the feet the of the man she adores.  For her there is no time for tears for her own pain, but she tirelessly and single mindedly leaves no stone unturned in her attempts to demonstrate her love for her beloved;  while all the time living with the thought that this may soon end and I may never have another day with the man I love and have loved all these years.  Ignoring her own deep pain and sorrow she focuses on him even though the wounds deep within her soul  cry out for relief.  I have watched her with awe these past two years, as she, like Mary, kneels at the foot of the cross having her heart broken, torn out and yet every disappointment, every painful memory, every setback is just an occasion for her to dig deeper within to mine out untapped veins of love.  These untapped resources give her the strength to continue to demonstrate that "love neither seeks nor needs nothing for itself  but seeks only what is best for the beloved".  Love gives and gives neither expecting nor receiving anything in return.  I now understand my mothers maxim, you must "Love Until It Hurts"

Subsequently I have seen demonstrated the truth that my beloved  friend and brother has often verbalized:  that in God's kingdom, God's economy,  love is the coin of the realm!   I have watched his wife lavish loves fortune on her man.  I am so deeply impacted by what I have seen, I am so moved that not even tears can fully express the awesome truth I have beheld - the truth of  "Christ in you the hope of Glory."  Such love makes my heart soar.  As it takes wing  I recall with a new grace and understanding a poem I have cherished since my youth:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

... and I have been touched.

As I have watched this life and death drama, this passion play being played out upon earths stage before my very eyes, and as I do I  recall a line from another beloved hymn:

"I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene."

And I am.  Jesus indeed is alive and well and living on planet earth.  I have experienced him thus.

With Thanksgiving,

Your brother in Christ

Monday, April 8, 2013

HELP WANTED: Leadership Position


Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant.     Matthew 23:9-11

And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.  Luke 22:25-27
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:1-11

"Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him.  And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She *said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They *said to Him, “We are able.”  He *said to them,  My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” 

And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said;  

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is NOT this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."     Matthew 20:20-28

There is no more popular nor sacred foundational truth within the Western church than the importance of and necessity of - effective leadership. Leadership conferences abound and the shelves of Christian bookstores are littered with countless volumes on the subject!  It seems that the success of God's business, like any other business, is utterly dependent upon the raising up and functioning of can do "leadership". The core belief in the modern Western church is that the growth of the body both numerically and spiritually is a product of effective leadership. Hence, a failure in numerical and/or spiritual growth is perceived as a failure of leadership! Our belief is that without leaders the sheep would all be lost and would most likely become someones lunch. Yummmmmmm!

Our church leadership structure, modeled upon the concepts of the Roman authoritarian governmental system, has been , at best, an abject failure.  Three dangerous "games" that the children of God love to play are Simeon Says, Monkey See Monkey Do and Follow the Leader.  

Our Lord recognized that the leadership problem was not unique to Roman ism but also well established within Judaism.  Many of God's people were followers of the sect of the Pharisees.  For we read in Matthew 15:

Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were [d]offended when they heard this statement?” 13 But He answered and said, Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

BOTH fall into the pit or ditch

Following men is NOT the path to discipleship no matter how seemingly gifted or sincere you or they are!  It can and has often led to rack and to ruin.  

There is grave danger in following men. However the other side of the coin is the danger of placing the burden of 'leadership" on the shoulders of brothers and sisters telling them that they are special or chosen ministers and are called to bear responsiblity for the health, safety, growth and well being of God's people.  Chosen vessels not the answer.  Historically the landscape of Christianity is littered with the carcases not only of slain sheep but also of fallen leaders who fell under the weight of such a heavy burden.  Even the divinely called and empowered Moses was not able to take God's people into the promised land!  The truth is that leadership is not a job or task for mere mortals to perform.  In God's economy true leadership lies only within the purview of the Holy Spirit - the spirit of Christ.

...for when He (the Spirit) comes He will guide you...

I have become burdened and am deeply grieved, not only for the sheep that have been sacrificed but also for the "leaders" who have been chewed up and spit out!  I have seen so many walking wounded; countless Christain zombies: men and women having the testimony of Jesus who have become burdened, burned out, and. disillusioned Many have collapsed under the weight of leadership.  These believers have been educated and commissioned to do the impossible  Having answered the call and having received their ministry credentials they have been sent out to do the Lord's work and made to shoulder a burden too heavy for any mere mortal or group of mortals to bear. 

So in consideration of this situation and in consultation with my dear brother Jay, I thought to offer a potential avenue to healing and restoration for these battered and bruised saints - the walking wounded.  Together we envisioned an organization called A.A. (Apostolics Anonymous). It operates as a sort of spiritual Betty Ford clinic for the terminally self important.  So I offer for your consideration and edification the following remedy.

Twelve Steps to Effective Leadership

1. We admit that we are powerless over pride and that our lives have become unfruitful.

2. Having come to our senses we realize that we need Jesus more than He needs us and that only He can restore our hearts and us to fruitful service.

3. Having made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care and control of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, we now seek to descend from our lofty positions as self-proclaimed leaders.  We humbly ask that we may have the honor of becoming His bond slaves; that we too may wash the feet of His disciples.

4. We ask the the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and convict us of our error and all sin, including considering ourselves over and above others.

5. Rather than feign perfection, giftedness or spiritual superiority, we admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our transgressions and sins.

6. We acknowledge that we are entirely ready to have God remove all defects of character and we ask for the fullness of the Spirit - that the character of Christ be formed in us. 

7. We humbly ask Him to remove us from our positions of prominence and visibility and give us a heartfelt desire for invisibility, insignificance and loving selfless service.

8. Having made a list of all persons we have hurt, shut out from the “inner circle”, overlooked as insignificant or lowly, those we have stepped on, ignored, condescended to or made to feel inferior in our search for personal significance, achievement, position, and power - we put on humility and seek  forgiveness as the Spirit leads.

9. With respect to those we have directly harmed, burned out, abused or defrauded, we purpose to confess our transgressions and repent.Where necessary we purpose to make  amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. We seek daily to  prayerfully take personal inventory, and when we are wrong to promptly admit it – publicly when necessary.

11. We determine to give ourselves to prayer and the Word of God so as to deepen our relationship with Him that we might know His will for us and do it.

12. Having returned to our first love, we purpose to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  We seek nothing for ourselves but commit with all our heart, mind, and energy to love one another as He has loved us and so we may prove to be His disciples.

"They must know it is not their aptitude,

but their attitude,

 that will determine their altitude." 

Jesse Jackson.

Not by Might, Not by Power

But by My Spirit 

saith the Lord!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Letter to an Emerging Leader

After our discussion this morning, I found myself meditating and thinking about the compound word leadership. Leader + ship. Of course the picture in my mind was of Columbus and the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. I mused that if I were asked to follow Columbus on a journey to the new world, I would first have to know that the captain of the lead ship was an experienced sailor, able to navigate uncharted and dangerous waters and able to keep me safe! It would be paramount that he was someone who was experienced - someone of proven character and skill – and someone who inspired me to follow - a man of vision and courage.

I think that the training of a great sea captain must involve years of selfless service: learning to navigate in fair and foul weather - weathering sudden and violent storms and keeping the ship off of the shoals and rocks. It seems to me my dear brother that you are just such a man! A man who is now under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit. Where others seem to get deliverance you learn to endure pain - long suffering. Where others can see the way, chart a course, devise a plan and simply execute it to achieve their objectives (success) - you tack around in the fog, giving it your all and yet you seem to fail over and over again as you sail through the storm unable to even see the way out. You stumble around as a blind man and cannot see the final destination on the horizon because it is your lot to learn to walk by faith and not by sight.

Where others may charge ahead like a bull in a china shop with gusto and boundless energy advancing from glory to glory, you seem destined to plod along fighting doubt, fear, darkness and unbelief every painful step of the journey - for you must learn endurance. Others pray and wait (not long) and then see the promise realized - the object of their prayers seems to materialize out of thin air like a glass in a replicator. You, however, pray, groan, moan, wrestle and weep unable to see or lay hold of the object of your supplications. Often in utter exhaustion you just give up and in your despair you helplessly watch as others receive and enjoy their blessings and then they move onward and upward leaving you behind: for God must work patience into your soul.

Where others are recognized for their gifts and efforts and go to the head of the class where they are accorded honor, endless thank yous and gratitude: you are ignored, overlooked, used, abused, maligned and even exploited. Often you find yourself sitting alone in self imposed isolation fending off the growing darkness, feeling empty, used up and forgotten. Yet, in so doing, you are blessed to be counted worthy to be in the company of the man of constant sorrows.

All this and more is part of your training and not just your education; for God is working into the very fabric of your life those precious qualities of true leadership and of heart which only a scarce few possess. He is endowing you with strength of character and a heart of compassion that causes others to be drawn to you like a moth to a lamp, because, like our Lord, you understand the feelings of their infirmities.

I want you to understand that laying down your life for His sheep does not mean simple martyrdom (as we would understand it) but enduring all things, i.e. loneliness, suffering, hardships, privations, temptations, hurt, scorn, ridicule, and rejection. All of these are specifically tailored just for your growth in truth and holiness so that when this process is completed - in His time - you will BE His witness! As a result, you will not have to try to lead others but you will BE a leader whom others will be drawn to follow. Your ministry, your service, will be divinely powerful because the truth which you share with others will not be intellectual isms or pious platitudes but will be steadfast - divinely powerful - having been forged in the crucible of your life. You will not just overcome but you will BE an overcomer.

When His work is completed in you, then the wind of the Spirit will blow upon the sails of your ship and you will be carried far and wide as He wills. As you glance back you will be surprised to observe that many other ships have chosen to follow you on your journey to the new world!

I'm blessed to know you and to call you my friend. I rejoice in the work of the Lord in your life. I love you and highly esteem you in the Lord. Many are called but few are chosen!


Your Brother in Christ

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Crown Him King?!

“And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. And set up over his head his accusation written;

You cannot listen to the words of Jesus and NOT realize the implications of the gospel of the Kingdom – the king’s domain.  The term KINGDOM is pregnant with governmental imagery - monarchy - theocracy.  It is profoundly political as opposed to religious. Before His crucifixion Jesus was asked, "Are you a King?", to which He responded, "Thou sayest!"  Above his head, on the cross, there was placed a sign by he Romans that said, The King of the Jews.  Jesus spent much time publicly speaking about the kingdom, what it was, where it was, how it worked and He even taught His disciples to pray, "Thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."  Jesus’ reign was to come into this time/space world of ours and his kingship - his government, his rule was soon perceived as an obvious threat, not only to the Romans but also to those Zionists who longed for a return to an earthly Jewish state and a restoration of their nationalistic theocratic identity! This desire was reflected in the question of His disciples at the end of His 40 day post-resurrection seminar on the subject, “Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid;  and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.  So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?”  Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.” Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.  Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” So the chief priests answered, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, 

"We have no king but Caesar."

Jesus’ kingdom is political and has profound political implications in this world, To relegate the coming kingdom to some future dispensation, some other ethereal realm, some new age other dimension is to deny both the prayer and teachings of Jesus: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!" Yet the problem for most of us is that we do not prayerfully consider the teachings of Jesus and their application to our lives, our values, our world, our society, our ethics, our morals, our actions, our business and our politics!

Although it has become somewhat Madison Avenue and trite, I like the idea of the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) acid test. We must consider, as subjects and ambassadors of the King, how would He have us, as citizens of heaven, to respond in this world to war - hunger - oppression - racism - injustice - poverty - militarism - child abuse - pornography and the flood of filth burying this nation? As in Bonhoeffer’s case we must consider, as ambassadors for Christ, our response to genocide, murder, and tyranny?  Are we called to just sit back and think noble heavenly thoughts?  Do we simply retire to our closets to pray and intercede?  Another important question is, Are we justified in feigning obedience to the state or the ungodly governments of men under the guise of "rendering unto Caesar' when those governments stand in opposition to the ways and will of God?  Are we justified, as God’s ambassadors  in remaining silent and powerless in the face of worldwide war, violence, injustice, exploitation, pestilence, famine, genocide and growing American militarism?

It is my contention that if there are no "political" consequences to the kingdom of God coming to earth (as it already is in heaven) then HIS will is obviously NOT being done on earth.  If there is no demonstration, no transformation and everything is business as usual: where and what is the evidence that the Kingdom has come? Are we to just sit passively by or go on our merry way while and continue to sell fire insurance while preaching American “apple pie in the sky by and by when we die"!  Our avoidance of the clash between cultures, values, and kingdoms has resulted in what Tony Campollo aptly calls “low impact Christianity.”  Instead of a creative counter culture we have become a subculture: somewhere beneath or subject subservient to the prevailing secular culture! Shame on us! Christianity is by nature and the example of our Lord and the early believers - counter cultural! Jesus Christ was no meek and mild namby pamby religionionist. He was a radical of the highest order.  He sanctioned neither Jewish elitism, Roman Imperialism, nor Greek democratic ideals (ecclesia). 

 No one, having listened to Jesus' public pronouncements could ignore his constant references to the primacy of the Kingdom of God. It was the kingdom of God which dominated His discourse and of which He spoke with such commanding authority.  If we are to be subjects of the King we must ask one question, "Lord, our commander and chief, what are your orders? What would you have me do in the face of evil? How shall I respond?  What is your will to be done, O Lord!"

I am convinced that we are not called to be passive observers, armchair quarterbacks or cowardly lions but more than conquerors through Christ.  In these dark times let us cease praying for revival, for deeper revelations, for ease, or for continued spiritual blessings, rapturous revelations or Holy Ghost goosebumps. Let us forget our preoccupation with prosperity, freedom and comfort. Let us ask God to grant us what is truly lacking and required in these times - courage!  Courage to march to the beat of a different drum!  Courage to stand and declare the will of God and to live out kingdom values in the midst of a self absorbed narcissistic culture.

The question for us to consider is not IF Jesus is ruling over His kingdom, but when and where does He purpose to demonstrate His authority and dominion in the earth.  The biggest unasked question is  HOW  -by what means - in what way - should we in our official capacity as ambassadors for Christ respond to our Lords call to be his disciples in the midst of this messed up world.  How can we demonstrate the primacy of faith and the love of God to mankind?  How do we effectively oppose evil without ourselves utilizing tactics which make us like that which we hate?   Lord what would you have us do?

As politically incorrect as it may sound, we must accept that Christianity is not ultimately about outcomes or even about the transformation of society. The goal is not utopia or heaven on earth, but a heavenly people in the earth who radiate and reflect the life and order of heaven!  Ultimately it is not about WHAT we do or how we achieve His objectives but WHY we do it!   It is about motives more than means or methods or results . It is about demonstrating the ultimacy of the power of the love of God.  Hence, we must realize that good ends resulting from motives other than love are of dubious eternal consequence.  To paraphrase Mother Theresa, "Large deeds with little love are of little consequence but small deeds done with great love can change the world." Love is the pure hi-test gas which powers the engine of kingdom advance and which leaves behind no residual pollution.

We must understand what the Kingdom of God is all about - what it means for us to be citizens of heaven and where our allegiance truly is!  When there is conflict between the teachings of Christ (assuming we really are interested and diligent in trying to understand what our Lord requires) AND our usual and customary practices, it is clear what we must do!  As with Bonhoeffer, Dr. King, Gandhi or even Patrick Henry, and countless other historical figures, we may find ourselves moved to stand against the tide and for truth; even if it costs us our liberty, our comfort and/or our lives.  Whether the issue  is abortion, corruption, caring for the poor and destitute, sexual slavery, opposition to war or injustice; the only appropriate question for us to ask is, “Lord what would YOU have us do!?!”  Our response is not some religious obligation but an expression of our heart felt submission to His Lordship.  It is a manifestation - an visible evidence of the love which operates within and through us and our desire to please Him!  This heavenly love compels us to act.  Simply professing that we have faith or confessing that we are Christians or “believers” is not sufficient.  Faith without works is dead; meaning that mere “belief” is impotent - it is neither life giving nor life enhancing!  After all, the even “devils believe and tremble.” We are to show our trust in the Lord, to demonstrate our submission to Him and His reign over us, with and by our acts of obedience.  Jesus says, “If you love me you will do what I say!” Really?! Can it possibly be that simple?

We American can do self-styled believers are, for the most part, impotent because we do not practice what we preach or, at least what we profess to believe.  We are all so smug secure and comfortable in our carefully crafted little theological houses that require so little of us.  The point is, as Morpheus says to Neo in The Matrix:

“There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path!” 
We have conveniently chosen to delegate to a secular worldly American governmental system such responsibilities as caring for the poor, the widow and the orphan.  In abdicating our God given opportunities for loving service, we have made the government of God subservient to or beneath the governments of men.  Despite the saying on our money, it is not In God We Trust but in isms - whether it is Social-ism, Capital-ism, Consumer-ism, American-ism, Liberal-ism, Conservatism, Libertarian-ism, Fascism, Evangelical-ism, Protestant-ism, Catholic-ism or any one of a host of institutional-isms!  These man centered intellectual systems are powerless to transform . I heard a christian brother once remark that: If the people of God would get right with God then all them isms would be wasms!”  He was right!
In saying these things I find myself being convicted.  I too talk a good game but yet I am haunted by the thought that if I were struck deaf, dumb and blogless, I wonder if anyone would recognize that I am a follower of Jesus and that I am subject to a higher government – a higher calling – and a higher power and a higher way - by simply observing how I/we live?  After all, Jesus did NOT say “By their rhetoric, their doctrine, pious platitudes, labels, theology, or their blogs ye shall know them.” Unfortunately I have come to realize that cyber space chatter is not cheap - it's virtually worthless. I have become painfully aware that much of the time my words speak more elegantly than my life. Lord forgive!?

So here is my prayer.

“Oh God, bring gripping conviction on our hearts and cause us to throw ourselves at your feet in repentance and absolute surrender. Come and reign over and in us for we know there is no hope in following or in allegiance to Caesar.” Amen